To confront a rising tide of illicit drug trafficking across Pike County, leading to multiple deaths by overdose, the District Attorney's Office plans to hire a specialized investigator focused solely on drug trafficking.
MILFORD - To confront a rising tide of illicit drug trafficking across Pike County, leading to multiple deaths by overdose, the District Attorney’s Office plans to hire a specialized investigator focused solely on drug trafficking. Local townships have been asked to partner with the county by making a financial contribution.
District Attorney Raymond Tonkin said that the idea came about from the issues with the opioid crisis facing Pike County, and a rising concern over methadones.
Times have changed, Tonkin said, noting that in the past drug trafficking more likely resulted from individuals within Pike County getting together and going to purchase ether drugs, use some and distribute the rest. Today, he said drug traffickers from the “source city” are traveling to Pike County to sell the drugs.
Along with that, Tonkin said that overdose deaths from opioids are rising locally. In Pike County, he said, in roughly the past 12 months, there were 11 people charged with Drug Delivery Resulting in Death. Some of those, he added, had multiple victims.
He stated that there is a need for a full time officer investigating these crimes.
“This will allow a deeper dive, with intelligence gathering, and hopefully arrests,” Tonkin said.
The Pike County District Attorney’s Office currently has three other investigators. The drug trafficking investigator would work in concert with the team, as well as the PA State Police, municipal police and in some cases, federal authorities. The investigator will also work with investigations in nearby counties where cases overlap.
Currently, county investigators can spend considerable time on electronic surveillance, probing data from cell phones and computers. Hiring a full time investigator for drug traffickers would allow that investigator to be have the time to gather intelligence and work the field, he said.
Townships asked to help
To pay for this addition to the county’s investigative team,Tonkin has asked the townships to contribute $1 for every resident, based on the 2010 census to the Pike County Drug Task Force. The Pike County Commissioners have agreed to match whatever the townships contribute, dollar to dollar, Tonkin said.
The calculated cost to fund the investigator for one year is $51,568.
Late in 2018, the District Attorney sent a letter to the townships requesting funding to hire a drug investigator.
So far, six townships have committed; another four have yet to formally decide. Tonkin said he hopes they will decide by the end of March 2019. He said the County plans to hire the investigator this year.
Townships on board as of February 28, were Lehman, Delaware, Dingman, Palmyra, Shohola and Milford.
Porter Township is in the far, heavily wooded southwest corner of Pike County. Township supervisors on March 4 decided to contribute $200, Chairperson Cheryl Schmitt stated. She noted that they were unsure of how many residents they presently have, although they have lost many since the 2010 census (when Porter had 485).
Tonkin is still waiting on decisions from Lackawaxen, Greene and Blooming Grove.
The remaining municipalities in Pike County, Milford Borough, Westfall Township and Matamoras Borough, have not been asked to participate because they have their own municipal police force and already contribute in other ways to the Pike County Drug Task Force, Tonkin said.
Shohola Township disbanded their municipal police department in December in order to find funding for ambulance services. At the January 7th supervisors’ meeting, following a presentation by Tonkin, the board unanimously agreed to participate. Shohola Township is donating $2,475.00.
In the case of Delaware Township, Secretary Karen Kleist said that the supervisors included $10,000 in the 2019 budget. This was a little short of the township’s population of around 11,500.
Milford Township will contribute $1 per resident, for a total of $1,530.
Palmyra Township also included funding in the budget for this request.
Delaware Township supervisors agreed in December to allocate $7,396 for one year only, on the condition that a majority of the townships contribute. Otherwise, the funds would return to the township.
Lehman Township agreed to contribute $10,633, the full amount based on their population.
The total approved for Palmyra Township was being sought.
At the February meeting of the Greene Township Supervisors, Tonkin made a presentation, and discussion ensued. Supervisor Gary Carlton expressed concern that the money would not benefit them if the investigator didn’t come to the far western, rural end of the county. Supervisor Jerry Olbert added at the meeting that most of the problems with drugs is in the southeastern part of Pike County. The matter was tabled to consider the proposal. The total for Greene would be $3,966, if the full amount was contributed.
In an interview, Tonkin commented, “Opioids and drugs touch every community in Pike County.” He noted that Lackawaxen Township, which like Greene is also very rural, was the scene of recent arrests of individuals wanted for delivery of opioids, that led to overdose fatalities.
Request for comments were made to Blooming Grove, Porter and Lackawaxen Townships.
The expense for this new position includes some start-up costs, salary, benefits, some overtime, equipment including a firearm, training and some administrative costs such as a cell phone, and expenses related to specific cases that need to be investigated, Tonkin stated.
Because some of these costs are incurred only in the beginning, Tonkin said the expense in the second year wouldn’t be as high.