The county's newly-minted drug task force is off to a good start, according to Lycoming County District Attorney Eric Linhardt.
Accompanied by county commissioners and representatives from local police departments, Linhardt relayed the achievements of the task force's first 100 days Tuesday morning at the Executive Plaza on Pine Street.
Now known as the Lycoming County Narcotics Enforcement Unit, the task force has seized over $32,000 in illegal drug proceeds and has made substantial arrests since Linhardt's office assumed responsibility of the unit in February from the state Office of the Attorney General, where it had operated since 2007.
Police, with the help of the county’s Narcotics Enforcement Unit seized weapons, drugs, cash and drug-packaging material from an apartment on Louisa Street in May. The residence was being used to traffic drugs. Tenesia L. Gathimbi, 31, lived there and allowed Anthony A. Gaskin, 22, and Ibrahim M. Stevens, 24, both of Brooklyn, New York, to stash and distribute heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana through the apartment. All three face felony drug charges.
Lycoming County District Attorney Eric Linhardt spoke about the successes of the county’s Narcotics Enforcement Unit Tuesday morning at a press conference. To the right are county commissioners Jeff Wheeland and Ernie Larson.
"The emphasis has been and will continue to be on short-term, rapid investigations leading to a large number of arrests with heavy emphasis on the execution of search warrants and the quick closure of drug houses operating in Lycoming County," Linhardt said.
Linhardt invoked three arrests the task force made in May at an apartment at 909 Louisa St. There, a 31-year-old woman had allowed two men from Brooklyn, New York, to traffic drugs through her residence.
Officials on the Narcotics Enforcement Unit seized three handguns, $8,900 of drug proceeds, eight bundles of heroin, 1/4 pound of crack cocaine, an additional 20 grams of heroin in plastic bags and drug packaging materials from the apartment. All three of the co-conspirators face felony drug charges.
"It is just one example of the good work and success that our narcotics unit has already seen," Linhardt said.
With the formation of the unit, five new full-time county detectives were hired. They are supplemented by two full-time city police officers, as well as part-time officers from municipal departments, including officers from Pennsylvania College of Technology. The part-time officers work overtime, but the cost of those hours are reimbursed by the Office of the Attorney General, Linhardt said.
The unit, under the coordination of County Detective Al Diaz, has initiated 50 investigations during its first 100 days. Linhardt said 50 percent of the investigations have been heroin-related and 26 percent have been crack cocaine investigations.
"Our success has been significant," Linhardt said before citing the 11 recovered firearms seized by the unit, the 44 arrests made, and the 17 search warrants successfully executed since Feb. 10.
Linhardt said working together with county law enforcement and the county commissioners is part of the solution to the area's heroin problem.
"I think the message is very clear to the drug dealers in Lycoming County that this is not the place to do business," Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland said.
Present at the Tuesday conference were police officers from state police, city police, Old Lycoming Township, Muncy, Muncy Township, Hughesville and South Williamsport.
"It is not a choice between ramped up law enforcement efforts or greater emphasis on treatment," Linhardt said. "The solution requires that we do both. The solution requires a partnership between our drug court programs, our treatment programs, prescription drug monitoring, education and prosecution.