The number of fatal overdoses from heroin and other opioids in Harford County is down 45 percent so far this year, Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said this week. And as the number of overdoses decline in Harford, so has overall crime, he said.
“While there is no way to say with absolute certainty that there is a direct correlation between the decrease in heroin overdoses and decrease in crime, we are confident in the statement that those suffering from heroin addiction will do almost anything to fulfill their addiction, which includes victimizing citizens of Harford County,” Gahler said.
“If fewer people are overdosing, an optimistic way to view that is that fewer people are using heroin, and therefore there are fewer individuals committing criminal acts in order to fund their addiction.”
So far, there have been 45 overdoses in Harford as of Monday, compared with 80 through the same time in 2018. Total overdoses are also down, from 484 on Dec. 16, 2018, to 415 through Monday, a drop of about 14 percent, Gahler said. The number of non-fatal overdoses, from 404 to 370, is down more than 8 percent.
“I would like to say that all of our collective efforts, not just the Sheriff’s Office, our enforcement end, the HOPE workgroup, the awareness signs, I think everything comes together with the county,” Gahler said. “It’s all the efforts from the county, citizens, HOPE, Upper Chesapeake, everyone coming together is resulting in the reduction of total overdoses and certainly the amount of lives being saved over the last two years.”
The Klein Family Harford Crisis Center is the most recent effort, offering a warm handoff to treatment that’s easily accessible, he said.
Four years ago, the sheriff’s office posted signage in front of its precincts indicating the number of year-to-date fatal overdoses and total overdoses to raise awareness about the epidemic. Earlier this week, Gahler announced on social media “a new purpose for these signs — support and treatment awareness.”
All of the signs have been updated to include the phone number 1-800-NEXT-STEP, the 24/7 crisis center hotline, on a blue background, “to remind community members that this fight is not over, we must continue to support those struggling with Substance Use Disorder through treatment and recovery," Gahler said in a post on the sheriff’s office Facebook page.
“We are fortunate to have the Klein’s Family Harford Crisis Center in our county to do just that. Remember, help is just a call away,” he said.
Col. William Davis said once the awareness, treatment and prevention were in hand, the county would begin to see a decrease in overdoses.
“It’s way too early to claim victory,” Gahler said.
Law enforcement thought heroin was bad, but then came the synthetic drugs and the epidemic got so much worse, he said.
If the 45 lives lost to overdoses were 45 deaths from car accidents or homicides, “we’d be pulling our hair out,” Gahler said. “It’s an unacceptable loss of life. We still have a long way to go."
He counters the argument from skeptics who say overdoses are as high as ever, but they’re not being reported to law enforcement or EMS because of the prevalence of naloxone, an overdose reversal drug known by its brand name, Narcan.
“I hope that’s not the case, I like to think that’s not the case, but certainly lives are being saved and that, first and foremost, is the top priority of everybody involved in the effort,” Gahler said.
Despite the significant decrease in overdoses, the Sheriff’s Office isn’t going to let up in its efforts to fight the epidemic.
“As we’ve seen in the past years, and the numbers continue to decline, that was motivation for us to try even harder,” Gahler said. “Nothing has changed in my mind in terms of the effort we put forth, but it is rewarding knowing lives are being saved, but at the same time it’s heart-breaking knowing lives are being lost.”
Decrease in crime
Crime is down in Harford County the first 10 months of this year over the first 10 months of 2018, Gahler said.
Property crimes are down 14 percent, violent crime is down 27 percent and overall Uniform Crime Reporting are down 16 percent this year over last, he said.
The Uniform Crime Reporting is the “report card” for police chiefs and sheriffs, he said. It includes some violent crimes and some property crimes, including homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, felony theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.
From 2015 to 2019, property crime is down 24 percent, violent crime is down 41 percent and Uniform Crime Reporting is down 27 percent overall.
“All of that goes to the men and women out there not just in the Sheriff’s Office, but our allied law enforcement partners at the state, federal and local levels that help service the needs of our county,” Gahler said.
“We have never been safer,” he said. “I hope I get to say that next year and the year after that and see how the future unfolds.”
Gahler presented the crime statistics Dec. 11 to members of the Harford County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, which met at the Bel Air Library with various groups in the county about their legislative priorities for the upcoming session that begins in January.
Challenges in the session include proposed changes in the administrative complaint process, which would open law enforcement officer’s personnel records.
“With the recruiting crisis across the nation, the bill, if passed, would have a chilling effect on men and women looking to law enforcement for a career path,” Gahler said.
Another bill would require two investigators from an outside agency to conduct an investigation into an officer-involved death, Gahler said.
Not being able to investigate the murders of Senior Deputy Pat Dailey and DFC Mark Logsdon in February 2016, would have been a “morale crusher” to deputies, he said.
At least 100 people in the Sheriff’s Office were involved in that investigation, a far cry from two people from an outside agency who would be required to look at the case.
“The citizens didn’t elect me to pick an outside agency to investigate ours,” Gahler said.