Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon’s Hope One mobile substance abuse recovery and resource program was featured in a segment that aired Feb. 23 and Feb. 24 on MeTV’s “Jersey Matters” program.
MeTV Correspondent Kimberly Kravitz met with Sheriff Gannon and the Hope One staff at the vehicle’s stop on Feb. 19 outside Bethel AME Church in Morristown. As Hope One approaches its second anniversary of operations, Kravitz spotlighted the 6,200 contacts staff has had with addicted individuals and their families and friends, and how anyone can be trained aboard the Hope One vehicle in the life-saving administration of Narcan, the opioid-reversal spray.
“I think the message is there’s hope. There’s hope. This all begins with hope. I’ve seen some tremendous success stories here,” Sheriff Gannon said in the interview.
Five officers from the Madison, Mount Olive, Morris Township and Morris County Park Police departments were sworn in Monday as the newest members of the elite, highly-trained Morris County Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team.
Accompanied by parents, friends and police chiefs from their respective departments, the five new SERT members sworn in as deputy sheriffs by Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon are Madison Police Officers Ryan Dunn and Julian Morales; Mount Olive Township Officer Matthew Koppinger; Morris Township Officer John Burk; and Morris County Park Police Officer Christian DiGiralomo.
The five officers are part of SERT, which is tasked with responding to major incidents in Morris County that require expert marksmanship, hostage negotiation skills, search and rescue, extreme fitness and ability to quickly assess dangerous circumstances and de-escalate situations to peaceful resolutions.
Sheriff Gannon called the SERT officers “warriors,” entrusted with protecting the community from hazards, threats and emergencies. The five new members were selected from 50 law enforcement officer applicants around Morris County and went through rigorous fitness and skills training before being sworn.
Morris County SERT is one of the few such teams selected for specialized training by the U.S. Secret Service and in the next few months, its members will receive additional training by Tier-One military units in skills to include rappelling, and counter-assault tactics by the Secret Service.
“When the bell rings we simply need the best. You guys are the best. I trust my life with you,” Gannon told SERT at a ceremony at the Morris County Office of Emergency Management.
“We’re very fortunate in that regard to have what we need here,” Gannon said. “You’re the elite of the elite.”
The Morris County Sheriff’s Office in 1988 created SERT, which was composed exclusively of sheriff’s officers until 2013 when the team was reconstructed to include talented law enforcement officers from municipal departments.
In 2017, under Sheriff Gannon’s leadership, two full-time SERT operator positions were created and filled by Sheriff’s Office Corporal Jamie Rae and Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Corrections Corporal Matthew Cilurso. Working with SERT Commander Gino Fluri, Rae and Cilurso focus daily on checking and monitoring critical infrastructure and areas deemed vulnerable to threats.
The other SERT members are volunteers who remain employed by their respective police departments but respond when SERT is alerted.
Fluri, the SERT commander, said members have conducted 624 training evolutions, participated in more than 2,548 hours of specialized training and more than 24,000 individual unit-training hours.
SERT responded to 78 requests for service in 2018 and also provides an extra layer of protection at large events, festivals and parades. The majority of SERT’s time though, Fluri said, is spent training and making sure members are fully prepared for emergencies.
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon highlighted programs started by his office to combat the opioid pandemic as guest speaker at a Narcan training class for EMTs at Morristown Medical Center.
The Hope One mobile substance abuse recovery vehicle – retrofitted from a defunct SWAT truck into a white and purple resource center – is Sheriff Gannon’s signature program and approaching its second anniversary on April 3.
A key component of Hope One is the free Narcan training offered by its staff, who have confirmed at least 31 lives were saved by people they trained, who in turn administered life-saving doses of the opioid-blocking nasal spray to loved ones in the throes of overdoses.
A crowd of EMTs gathered in an amphitheater of the hospital as part of a continuing education process through the Atlantic Training Center that Monday, Feb. 25, focused on Narcan administration and the role of EMTs in responding to opiate overdoses. Sharing his philosophy that law enforcement also has a duty to act as guardians, Sheriff Gannon said Hope One’s goals of saving the lives of addicts should translate into an end or reduction in crimes users commit in desperate quests for cash to support drug habits.
“After they’ve run out of money and melted Mommy’s silver set and stolen Daddy’s gun collection, they start pulling on handles of people’s cars parked on the street, looking for the Apple iPhones, the watches, looking for cash, looking for cars. They then start doing the retail thefts so they can convert it to money, 10 percent on the dollar, 10 cents on the dollar, 20 cents on the dollar, whatever they get.”
Gannon said: “We need on the guardian side to stay with helping people. We know we’re not arresting our way out of this problem. We need to do something different.”
Gannon’s innovative approach with Hope One – bringing critical recovery services and resources to the people – was replicated in December in Newark, and in the past year by the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Monmouth and Atlantic County Sheriff’s Offices. Burlington County has expressed interest in starting a Hope One program, as Passaic and Bergen counties recently have.
The Morris County Sheriff’s Office Hope One program has made more than 240 stops in Morris County towns in the past 22 months and logged more than 6,200 contacts with individuals. At least 1,600 people have been trained in the use of Narcan by Hope One staff that includes a Sheriff’s Officer, a mental health worker from the Essex and Morris County Mental Health Association, and a certified peer recovery specialist – someone who has experienced addiction and now is uniquely qualified and trained to help others with the battle.
The success of Hope One led to the creation in 2017 of the Hope Wing at the Morris County Correctional Facility. There, inmates committed to overcoming alcohol or drug addiction confront their struggle through daily programs like relapse prevention, anger management counseling, education, spirituality, family and relationship connections and peer-to-peer counseling.