February 11, 2021
Statement From Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker, And Sheriff Jim Allard:
BATH, NY – Steuben County’s long history of battling substance abuse is continuing despite the obstacles presented by changes in the state’s court reforms and a worldwide pandemic. County District Attorney Brooks Baker told the county Legislature’s Public Safety and Corrections Committee recently the state’s bail and discovery reforms are essentially a “catch and release” policy for drug dealers in New York State. “Bail reform has pushed people out of jail very rapidly or kept them out of jail entirely. It limits our ability to gather intelligence and information and cooperation from sources we traditionally relied on as part of our investigative process,” Baker said. “The other reality is if people are not in jail, they don’t need to cooperate – and often don’t want to break those ties. So they stay in the drug world and stay silent – hampering our ability to gather intelligence.
County Sheriff Jim Allard said the change in bail reform has created a new class of substance abuse victims, since repeat offenders are now released instead of being held pretrial. In the past, being held on bail meant the low level dealers who dealt drugs to support their habit could volunteer for treatment and recovery programs through the jail, he said. “Now they can avoid the treatment and recovery options we offered, which leads to increasing amounts of ingestion to meet their addiction needs which then can lead to overdoses,” Allard said.
Prosecuting alleged dealers has been far more difficult due to the state’s rules on discovery, which force Baker’s office to turn over evidence to the defendant within days of the arrest, Baker said. “People do not want to cooperate if the bad guy is going to know their name, and with bail reform most likely they’ll be out of jail, anyway,” Baker said. “Discovery creates a huge safety issue for cooperating folks and law enforcement.” His department now applies to county Court for protective orders so they do not have to turn over names, statements and identifying information of informants in discovery, he said. But investigators still have their work cut out convincing witnesses to speak up, he added. The pandemic also has had an impact on preventing substance abuse in the county. While local officials report an increase in drug abuse, and related crimes, as a direct result of COVID-19, the virus also changed the way law enforcement interacted with the community, Baker said.
Efforts to prevent illegal substances sale use in Steuben continue, despite difficulties continued, p.2
P. 2 Efforts to prevent illegal substances sale use in Steuben continue (cont.).
The enforcement of social protocols meant less personal interaction, less arrests, less intelligence, less informants — and more underground sales, he said. Yet COVID-19 has not stalled local efforts to halt the spread of narcotics sales by the county Sheriff’s interdiction program, Baker said. Announced in July 2018, the sheriff’s department broadened its interdiction efforts from “fortuitous” traffic violations to one with more officers, better training and equipment, and links to a multi-county drug intelligence initiative.
“Armed sometimes with information and always with training and focus, they have become exactly the critical piece in drug enforcement the Sheriff predicted when we entered into the original Comprehensive Opioid Prevention Effort (COPE) plan almost three years ago,” Baker said. “It has even greater importance now as a more and more valuable source of not only arrests, but also intelligence.” Allard said his people also have had challenges due to bail reform and the pandemic. “Arrested persons know they will be released, similar to low-level offenses,” he said.
The sheriff’s department’s resources have been strained by the pandemic with the equivalent of five full time employees assigned to assist the county’s Public Health department, according to Allard. That, in turn, reduces the department’s ability to bring more resources to investigations and interdiction, Allard said. Allard also is concerned the current reforms create the perception that drug use is not important and inconsequential, especially to youth. “That perception is not only wrong, it means people can, and will, die,” Allard said. Baker said his team continues to make headway against drug sales and use in Steuben. “With the dedication of our local law enforcement community, and in particular the Steuben County Sheriff’s Office, we have evolved our process to deal with new hurdles, continued our effectiveness in striving to keep Steuben County safe and a bad place to deal drugs,” he said. “Despite the Governor and the majorities in the Assembly and Senate, we are still effectively addressing drug trafficking in Steuben County. “It is just more difficult.”