Dozens of first responders, firefighters, police officers, parents, high school and college students and other community members came to the Wantagh Fire Department on Nov. 29 to hear Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and his colleagues discuss the county’s fight against opioid abuse, as well as school safety and the school resource program against active shooters.
The meeting was a part of the Nassau County Police Department’s “60-day return” since a larger gathering at the WFD in September, and department officials reported their progress in combating overdoses as part of Operation Natalie. The program is named after Massapequa teenager Natalie Ciappa, who died of an overdose 10 years ago.
Ryder said that no one in Wantagh had died of an overdose in the previous 60 days. Countywide, non-fatal overdoses were down 29 percent, and fatal overdoses were down 13 percent.
Thirty-three drug arrests were made across the county in the 60 days leading up to the September meeting, he added, and 42 arrests had been made since then. Wantagh residents accounted for 23 percent of the arrests since September. “We have to keep up the education, we have to keep up with the awareness, we have to keep up with the treatment-offered side of it,” Ryder said.
He added that the use of Narcan in the county had dropped, which seemed counterintuitive. Narcan is used to counteract opioid overdoses, so he had expected its use to increase, he said. Last year the police administered 750 doses, but the number was down to 437 this year.
First-time heroin users, Ryder explained, are more likely to die because of the increased purity of the drug and the addition of fentanyl, an opioid painkiller that is several times stronger than heroin.
“As police commissioner, I’m responsible to the people in Nassau County, but I’m a father too,” Ryder said. “With triplets at home that are 19 years of age, [the crisis] concerns me . . . I need families to have more conversations with their kids to make sure that they’re doing the right thing.”
He went on to say that police had visited 17 homes of Wantagh overdose victims in the past two months to see if they could help further.
County Executive Laura Curran, who opened the meeting, commended the NCPD for its “hard and tenacious work. If we can help, or affect one person’s life for the positive, I’m really happy to be able to do that,” she said.
Operation Natalie uses real-time reporting of data from overdoses and drug-related crimes, Curran said. The data is then shared with community groups where drug activity occurs.
Commanding Officer Chris Ferro, of the department’s Major Cases Bureau, who heads Operation Natalie, said that its approach to opioid abuse is multi-pronged, touching on education, awareness, enforcement, diversion, treatment and after-care.
Officer Robert Segretto spoke about marijuana, which he characterized as a “gateway drug.” Marijuana users have a 70 percent likelihood of using other drugs, he said, including alcohol and tobacco.
“Not everybody is an addict,” Segretto said. “Not everybody has problems. But we want to be able to recognize our own children and the friends of our children who come to our home. Prevention is always best.”
NCPD officials also discussed school safety, with Officer Joseph Monez focusing on how to protect schools from active shooters. The average duration of an active-shooter situation is 10 to 15 minutes, Monez said. Seventy percent last less than five minutes, however, and 52 percent last less than two minutes. The NCPD’s average response time is under three minutes, he added.
The police actively monitor social media sites, Monez said, where they are currently registering many more threats.
They urge the public to become more aware of safety protocols. They give classes in emergency first aid and conduct informational sessions that encourage the public to recognize the warning signs of a troubled youth. And police have increased their visibility through random patrol visits to the schools. Schools officials continue to rehearse lock-down drills, and they have hardened entrances to schools, making it more difficult, and time-consuming, to gain access.
The NCPD has also introduced the new Rave Panic Button — a phone app that alerts police to danger. When emergencies occur, school officials can immediately send alerts to the police, so victims are not waiting in a 911 queue. Every public school district in the county has installed the app, as well as libraries and private schools. “What that app does is, it allows us to pick that person that we already have an established relationship with, who is a school administrator,” Monez said. “We know that’s the person calling.”
“The biggest thing we are trying to do as a police department is to cut seconds off these events,” he added. “Every second that you can cut off is a life.”