Thursday, April 25, 2024

County approves HCSO purchase of narcotic identification device

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Members of the Hood County Sheriff’s Office will soon have a new tool to assist in the fight against narcotics.

The Hood County Commissioners Court unanimously voted to allow the HCSO to purchase a narcotic identification device from the department’s opioid settlement funds.

Emergency Management Coordinator Margaret Campbell explained to the court that the street crimes unit and Lt. Gary Roberts came to her office about potentially looking for a grant to purchase drug identification and detection equipment.

"After looking at it, it became apparent that the opioid settlement fund would be a totally appropriate place to pull money from for this equipment,” Campbell said. “The intent with the opioid settlement funds is for opioid remediation and abatement, and that's exactly what this device would do, so we think it’s probably most appropriate to do that.”

The device, Campbell said, costs $29,900 and will allow the HCSO to handle dangerous narcotics, like fentanyl, without any direct contact.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Just two milligrams of fentanyl, equal to 10 to 15 grains of table salt, is considered a lethal dose, according to Texas Health and Human Services (THHS).

“We do have a fentanyl problem in Hood County,” Roberts said. “We're doing (our) best to mitigate that and manage it. To give you guys some examples about how much of a problem it is, we've had several fentanyl overdose deaths. It usually affects our young citizens, like early 20s."

Illegally manufactured fentanyl is found in heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and in counterfeit pills. As a result, many people may not know they're ingesting fentanyl, leading to an accidental poisoning, according to THHS.

To stress how prevalent the fentanyl problem is in Hood County, Roberts described a recent traffic stop in which 50 fentanyl pills were discovered hidden under a child in a car seat, along with a stolen gun.

"The problem is here, and our guys are doing their very best to fix this, but it's not gonna go away,” he said. “It's very dangerous to have this stuff on you — but when you're searching a car, you never know what you're gonna come across.”

The device, Apex Raman Spectrometer, is pocket-sized and provides noncontact identification of explosives, chemicals, drugs, narcotics, precursors and mixtures. Using a simple, point and shoot operation, it provides “lightning-fast” results in 20 seconds or less, according to the Detectachem website.

“It's safer to use a laser (than it is to touch a substance with gloved hands),” Roberts said. “It can go through a small, medium barrier to identify substances. It also does detect explosive material like gunshot powder, residue, stuff like that, so you can use it in some other crime scene-related fields, not just for narcotics. But the main thing is to keep our guys safe.”

Roberts revealed that the street crimes unit is also setting up undercover drug deals to potentially catch dealers — even going so far as to purchase 500 to 1,000 pills at a time.

"We're also getting into pure fentanyl powder now,” he said. “The other day, we set a deal to buy half an ounce of pure fentanyl powder, so to give you an idea of what that is, the DEA, (Drug Enforcement Administration) they say that a kilo of fentanyl will kill 500,000 people, so it’s some pretty serious stuff that we're getting into. I just want us to be a little safer and keep the drugs off the streets as best we can.”

“This is a handheld device and can detect it without having to touch it or handle it yourself?” asked Precinct 2 Commissioner Nannette Samuelson. “Even with gloves on you can detect it with just holding this device?”

“Yes ma’am,” Roberts said. “This device will see through a bag or small barriers.”

He explained that with the current system, officers have to open the bag, obtain a swab of the suspected narcotic, put the swab in their kit, and take it to a lab in Mansfield. Once the results from the testing come back, officers then have to obtain a search warrant, track the suspect down, and then search their residence before an arrest can be made.

"We're just leaving bad guys on the street for a long period of time, so this lets us build probable cause to arrest somebody that night and on scene — whether it be in a house during search warrants or on a traffic stop,” Roberts said. “So, it's very important to test it right then and not just wait for a lab, and this gets us there.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Jack Wilson made a motion to authorize the Hood County Sheriff’s Office to purchase a narcotics identification device using opioid settlement funds in the amount of $29,933.29. The motion carried unanimously.

“Good luck, and save lives,” Massingill said to Roberts.