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Gov. Larry Hogan, speaking at the Hero's Highway dedication in Abingdon last month, has announced the Harford County Sheriff's Office will be among several local law enforcement receiving additional funding to fight the heroin abuse epidemic facing much of the state.
Gov. Larry Hogan, speaking at the Hero's Highway dedication in Abingdon last month, has announced the Harford County Sheriff's Office will be among several local law enforcement receiving additional funding to fight the heroin abuse epidemic facing much of the state. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

More than $280,000 in state funding has been awarded to the Harford County Sheriff's Office to support its fight against the county's heroin abuse epidemic.

The Harford Sheriff's Office will receive $73,304 for a heroin coordinator position and $207,000 for local Safe Streets Initiative efforts, according to an announcement Monday by Gov. Larry Hogan.

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Funding has been allocated to 17 local law enforcement agencies for heroin coordinators, as well as the Maryland State Police for a statewide coordinator, Hogan's office said.

Cristie Kahler, a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office, said Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler "was very pleased to see funds for this position become available."

Bel Air Police and fire and EMS personnel were called to the scene of a dual medical emergency on Main Street Wednesday night that was dispatched as possible overdoses. Police at the scene would only say it was a "medical call."

"The position will directly support and expound upon the work we are currently doing with our Harford County government partners and be available for as long as funding allows," Kahler wrote in an email Tuesday. "We are hopeful, as this is a priority for not only Harford County, but also the state of Maryland, that the funding will be continued for the foreseeable future."

As of Monday, the Sheriff's Office had responded to 162 heroin overdose calls, 25 of them fatal. The agency began tracking such calls last year in an effort to develop more information on sources of supply of the drug and to raise public awareness of the problem.

Just last week, two people were sickened inside a building on North Main Street in Bel Air by what town police said were adverse reactions to suspected heroin. One was hospitalized.

In all, Hogan allocated $3 million in grant funding to law enforcement agencies, local governments and community groups across the state to support the pooling of information about drug dealers and traffickers, to put repeat and violent drug offenders in jail and steer more addicts toward treatment, according to a statement from the governor's office.

"Throughout Maryland, from our smallest town to our biggest city, heroin is destroying lives," the governor stated.

The grant programs are based on recommendations from the state's Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force, which Hogan established shortly after taking office last year. Local jurisdictions were required to apply for the money.

Young people who have lost a loved one to heroin are speaking out in a series of public service announcements in Harford County movie theaters this summer.

"Throughout Maryland, from our smallest town to our biggest city, heroin is destroying lives," the governor stated.

Harford County received the second-highest allocation for a coordinator, behind the Cumberland Police Department in Western Maryland, which received $84,180. Harford ranked six out of nine agencies for Safe Streets funding, behind the Annapolis Police Department, Anne Arundel County government, the Salisbury Police Department, Frederick City Police Department and the Cumberland Police.

The Cecil County Sheriff's Office will receive $59,641 for a heroin coordinator, and $203,000 in Safe Streets grants are allocated to the Maryland State Police in Cecil.

The coordinators will enter and analyze data about drug investigations to make it easier for local police to work with neighboring agencies and track drug traffickers.

An advertisement for the Harford County position, described as a "Temporary Heroin Coordinator/Analyst" has been posted online at http://harfordsheriff.org/employment/openings.

The full-time coordinator will work with the Harford County Task Force to take data that detectives have found through heroin investigations and place it into databases used by local, state and federal law enforcement. The coordinator will also read and enter data from task force case files and reports for analysis and compile information about fatal and non-fatal overdoses and demographic information about the overdose victims, according to the posting.

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The Safe Streets Initiative is a partnership between the Governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention and local law enforcement to target "that core group of offenders who commit the majority of violent offenses locally" using inter-agency collaboration, according to a web page on Safe Streets.

The funding dedicated to fight heroin via Safe Streets will be used to track and arrest violent drug offenders, steer offenders with substance abuse issues toward treatment and social services and hire "peer recovery specialists" in five locations to help integrate the treatment portion, according to the state's news release.

The Harford Sheriff's Office has led local Safe Streets Initiative crime reduction efforts since 2012. The Sheriff's Office and municipal police departments work through Safe Streets to handle "high incidents of crime," according to Kahler.

The administration of Harford County Executive Barry Glassman has been recognized by the National Association of Counties for the Harford County's extensive efforts to reduce heroin use and overdoses.

"The initiative enhances successes already accomplished, builds new initiatives, and expands current ones to ensure public safety throughout Harford County," Kahler wrote.

She said the Safe Streets grant funds will be used to help cover salary, overtime, contractual services and equipment expenses.

Safe Streets crime reduction initiatives happen countywide, but much of the focus is on the southern part of Harford and the Route 40 corridor, including Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, according to Kahler.

Kahler said Sheriff's Office, municipal police and Maryland State Police representatives, as well as people from the Harford County Board of Education, the Harford Community College public safety department, the State's Attorney's Office and the Detention Center attend weekly CompStat meetings to exchange information.

She said Safe Streets is a "particular focus" of these meetings.

"Harford County has traditionally been a rural community and is now faced with many of the challenges of an urban environment," Kahler wrote in her email. "The law enforcement agencies within the county face the same challenges as urban centers, often without the necessary resources or manpower allocations."

The grants awarded Monday are part of a stream of federal and state money that has come to Harford County in the past year to augment local efforts to combat heroin.

The Sheriff's Office spent more than $76,000 in June, using money from a prior Safe Streets grant, to purchase four license plate readers, bringing its total number of readers to 14, as part of the agency's multiple efforts to fight heroin. The readers help the Sheriff's Office reduce property crimes related to heroin addiction, such as vehicle theft, Kahler stated in a previous email.

The county government received a $120,000 grant from the Maryland Behavioral Health Administration in August of 2015 to hire two prevention specialists to conduct anti-drug outreach efforts in local schools.

Last year, the county used $25,000 in federal grant money to purchase billboard advertisements near Bel Air and in Edgewood to alert residents that children as young as 11 years old had reported trying heroin, which kicked off Harford's extensive anti-heroin campaign throughout the second half of 2015 and this year.

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