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Drop in Crime, Drug Overdoses in Lacey Attributed to Tough Drug Enforcement

Lacey police chief talks crime-fighting strategies that paid off in 2013, and plans for the coming year

It's against conventional wisdom – or at least assumption – as Lacey continues its struggles with an epidemic of heroin abuse that is plaguing Ocean County. But statistics show that both crime and the number of drug overdoses fell in Lacey in 2013.

The signature crime of the heroin epidemic – burglaries, where addicts often search for valuables to pawn or prescription medications to consume – were down from 119 in 2012 to 62 in 2013, a staggering 47.9 percent drop.

"A vast majority of the burglaries and thefts in middle class towns is directly linked to drug use," said Police Chief David A. Paprota. "By involving all personnel in the police department in the effort as a priority, many offenders were identified more quickly and brought to justice before they were able to commit additional offenses."

A single individual, at times, will commit a series of burglaries before being identified, said Paprota, meaning that drug enforcement efforts resulting in the arrest of drug users come with the possibility of quelling a rash of break-ins.

"Given the close connection between burglaries, thefts, and drug use, it was deemed essential that we attack the crimes as interrelated and recognize that victimization could be reduced by making the drug arrests," the chief said. "The likelihood of additional burglaries and thefts being committed diminished with each drug offender who was arrested and brought to the public’s attention."

Going by the statistics, the strategy worked.

In 2013, Paprota said, officers made 126 drug arrests with 30 charges of drug distribution. The arrests were a result of an increased focus on enforcement.

"The Detective Bureau personnel along with the Uniformed Patrol Division engaged in focused enforcement efforts to identify, investigate, arrest, and charge drug dealers and offenders as a priority in 2013," he said.

For Paprota, public awareness is the "single most important aspect of reducing crime through arrests."

"We cannot rely on the system to hold the offenders from being released back into the community," he said. "As such, it is essential that residents are aware of who exactly is committing the offenses in their neighborhoods. Offenders are much less likely to commit additional crimes in the neighborhoods if the residents of the neighborhoods know who is committing the crimes. While the police department cannot control human behavior, we can certainly employ strategies that help the community reduce crime."

The number of burglaries committed in a given year, and the charges that result from them, often do not match up completely, according to Paprota, because in a majority of cases the burglary victim has a connection to the suspect. Thus
not all burglaries result in formal charges and prosecution, as some families "struggle with the challenges of drug addiction."

Though considered by some to be the center of Ocean County's struggle with drugs, specifically heroin, the total number of drug overdose deaths in Lacey fell in 2013 despite the number of deaths doubling county-wide.

In all, 32 Lacey residents suffered drug overdoses in 2013 compared with 43 in 2012. Paprota said the police department has partnered with the community, the schools and local organizations to help combat the problem, and the efforts will continue in 2014.

Also, Paprota said, 2014 will bring new strategies to the police department, including an expanded role for patrol officers.

"The patrol division personnel will be further integrated into the investigative function of the department and will engage in more follow-up investigations, overt and covert surveillance operations, as well as directed enforcement activities to further address illegal drugs, burglaries, thefts, underage consumption of alcohol, and DUI," he said.

Overall, Lacey saw a 29.1 percent drop in crime from in 2013, as compared to 2012. The number of crimes charged dropped from 832 to 590 in the two-year span.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article stated there were 32 drug overdose deaths in Lacey in 2013. In reality, there were 32 total drug overdoses investigated by police. The article has been clarified.

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