Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon, founder of the Hope One mobile substance abuse recovery vehicle, joined 42 service providers Thursday in offering resources to homeless and at-risk individuals at the annual Project Homeless Connect Program.

Gannon and Morris County Freeholder Kathy DeFillippo were among several officials who greeted a crowd of customers at the opening ceremony for Project Homeless Connect in the parish hall of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown.

Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon chats with Robert Davison, chief executive officer of the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris Inc. at Project Homeless Connect in Morristown.
Robert Davison, chief executive officer of the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris Inc., with Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon at Project Homeless Connect in Morristown on Jan. 24, 2019.

Gannon noted the Hope One van – which has parked twice a week since April 2, 2017, in fixed locations throughout Morris County to offer support, resources and Narcan training to people struggling to overcome opioid or other substance addictions – was on scene outside the church.

Gannon also cited his new STAR program, designed to give inmates at the Morris County Correctional Facility educational, housing and employment resources to successfully re-enter society after their incarcerations.

“The first thing we need to do is get a roof over their heads because it’s hard to be sober when you’re living at large,” Gannon told the crowd.

“We care for everybody. Your families are our families,” Gannon said.

Referring to all the providers, he said: “In this room, we can do magic, with all these people who are like-minded.”

The Hope One mobile substance abuse recovery vehicle at Project Homeless Connect event in Morristown.
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon’s Hope One mobile substance abuse recovery vehicle at Project Homeless Connect in Morristown.

Project Homeless Connect, a day-long program to assist the homeless and people at risk of losing housing, is sponsored and organized by the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris Counties.

The county’s 2018 annual Homeless Point In Time Count, an organized tally of the number of individuals without a home on January 23, 2018, was 398 people.

Providers were available to discuss housing options, mental health assistance, employment, energy assistance and substance abuse issues. Customers were given free haircuts, toiletries, health care screenings, backpacks and T-shirts.

Representatives of Operation Chillout, which assists homeless veterans, handed out backpacks filled with warm clothing. In November of 2018, Operation Chillout donated 50 backpacks to Sheriff Gannon’s Hope One van.

Morris County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Ashley Craig manned a Hope One booth at the event, passing out literature and resource information, with assistance from a peer recovery specialist and Ashley Reed, a care navigator for Navigating Hope.

Navigating Hope, a mobile social service enterprise modeled after Hope One, is a partnership between the Morris County Department of Human Services and the non-profit Family Promise. Navigating Hope is expected to launch its van to bring services to homeless people and individuals with mental health issues in February.

Morris County Sheriff’s Office hosts advanced K-9 ‘decoy’ training

Clad in Kevlar-lined or protective suits, law enforcement K-9 officers this week offered their arms and legs as bite-bait to learn advanced techniques from Morris County Sheriff’s Office K-9 experts on partnering with their dogs to apprehend dangerous criminals.

The week-long Morris County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Academy Decoy Seminar at the Morristown Armory provided intensive instruction and real-life scenarios to 15 K-9 handlers from around the state, including New Jersey State Police and officers from Deal, Mahwah, Jersey City, Hillsborough, and the Essex and Passaic County Sheriff’s Offices.

“The seminar was a vital opportunity for K-9 teams to learn from premier leaders how to deploy K-9s under specific scenarios to stop suspected violent offenders while keeping the community, themselves and their dogs safe,” Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon said.

Dog relaxes with a grin during Morris County Sheriff's Office K-9 Academy training
A K-9 patrol dog at Morris County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Academy training session

The seminar was taught by Sheriff’s Office Detective Sgt. Aaron Tomasini, Detective Cpl. Michael McMahon and a K-9 officer from the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office.

The seminar focused on training officers to be decoys skilled at drawing out behaviors in the dogs that hone their abilities to apprehend and hold suspects. The decoys, protected by their bulky padded suits, played the role of suspects trying to flee while other officers and handlers deployed the dogs with commands. Handlers do not act as decoys to their own dogs.

Since decoy work is physically taxing on the officer, the seminar also provided instruction to officers on how to avoid injuries to themselves and the pursuing K-9.

“For the dog, apprehension is the reward. The decoy is a big toy they get to possess and obtain,” Tomasini said.

K-9 bites officer during training at a Morris County Sheriff's Office K-9 Academy seminar
Decoy officer with K-9 during training at a Morris County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Academy seminar

Tomasini said K-9s very rarely are commanded in Morris County to chase and bite suspects, and only after verbal warnings are first given to a suspect. But K-9 deployment is an important tool for use against non-compliant criminal suspects and all commands to the dogs to apprehend and hold come from their handlers who are trained in proper use of force, Tomasini said.

“We have a tool we may utilize for the safety of fellow officers, as well as the community, that’s able to stop the threat,” he said.

Dog apprehends and holds a Morris County Sheriff's Officer during K-9 training
Morris County Sheriff’s Officer undergoing decoy training at a Sheriff’s Office K-9 Academy training seminar

Morris County Sheriff’s Officers assigned to the K-9 section use Belgian Malinois, German and Dutch shepherds in their work that can involve responses to multiple calls in one day. The section is a shared service, available to all municipalities and law enforcement agencies in the county.

In 2018, the K-9 section logged 854 calls and sweeps. The statistics include 518 callouts for narcotics, bomb, arson, patrol, and search and rescue endeavors, and 336 protective sweeps of Morris County facilities.

The dogs are so highly trained they hear and obey only their handler’s voice commands while working, with the ability to block out noises or words that may be uttered by a fleeing suspect, Tomasini said.

Morris County Correctional Facility Achieves Sixth Consecutive Accreditation

The Morris County Correctional Facility in Morris Township has been accredited for a sixth consecutive time, mastering standards set by the American Correctional Association for jails on nutrition, security, cleanliness and quality of life.

A three-member team of auditors for the American Correctional Association, a private, non-profit corrections accrediting group, toured, examined records, and talked to staff and inmates at the 18-year-old county jail over a three-day period in May.

The tour culminated last weekend with reaccreditation of the jail during an ACA conference in New Orleans. Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon, jail Warden Christopher Klein and other top correctional officers answered final questions posed by an ACA panel before learning the jail was re-accredited for a three-year period.

Morris County Jail Warden Christopher Klein and Morris County Sheriff James Gannon, holding accreditation certificate, surrounded by jail superior officers and officials of the American Correctional Association in Louisiana.
Morris County Correctional Facility Warden Christopher Klein and Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon, holding the accreditation certificate, surrounded by superior Correction officers and officials of the American Correctional Association in Louisiana.

They were told the jail had the rare distinction of being one of the few county jails in the nation that achieved 100 percent compliance scores on 383 standards evaluated by the auditors. Nationwide, fewer than 150 county jails out of more than 3,000 are accredited.

“I am truly proud of this accomplishment by the correctional facility’s sworn and civilian staff, the professionalism they show every day, and the humane environment they maintain for inmates,” said Gannon.

Warden Christopher Klein said the reaccreditation is a testament to the commitment of the facility’s staff that includes 165 sworn officers and 19 medical personnel.

“It’s always good to have outsiders come in and reaffirm the good work our staff does. The standards by the American Correctional Association are above and beyond state standards,” he said.

Morris County jail Lt. Michael Morsch, Capt. Steve Piatti, Capt. James Janzen, Warden Christopher Klein, and in back, Officer Mike Chereches sitting in a corrections pod.
From left to right: Morris County Corrections Lt. Michael Morsch, Capt. Steve Piatti, Capt. James Janzen, Warden Christopher Klein, and in back, Officer Mike Chereches.

The jail was built for a population of 524 inmates and housed an average of 233 individuals at the time of the audit. Inmates ranged from age 18 to 75.

The audit’s findings established:

  • The jail has a well-integrated and well-designed security system that includes staff control of all entrances, exits and doors.
  • The facility provides a comfortable, clean environment to live and work, with adequate shower units.
  • Sanitation is given “a very high priority,” according to the audit. Inmates, under staff supervision, clean the facility and cleaning supplies are carefully distributed and inventoried after use.
  • The health services unit provides 24-hour medical services and is staffed with people “who appeared to care a great deal about the welfare of the inmates and the work they do,” the report stated.
  • Social service specialists complete biopsychosocial intakes on all incoming inmates and provide assistance in adjustment to confinement and work with inmates on discharge planning.
  • Inmates can participate in observing the religion of their choice. The jail has a full-time chaplain, who coordinates access to other clergy and volunteers to visit inmates upon request.

The report noted extensive protocols in place to prevent inmate suicides and stated no suicides occurred in more than 12 years. An average of 44 percent of the inmates are on psychotropic medications, and all inmates who enter the facility on psychiatric medication or with a significant mental health history are referred to a psychiatrist.

The audit team spoke in May with 68 inmates, who made positive remarks about the food, medical, educational and other services in May, the audit states. The team also met with 39 staff members, both sworn and civilian.

“The staff was universally professional and obviously proud of their role in the facility operations. They were knowledgeable about their jobs and eager to discuss them,” the audit states.

The correctional facility, situated off John Street in Morris Township, opened in May 2000 to replace a deteriorating and overcrowded jail in Morristown that was built in the 1930s.

The new jail includes eight housing pods and operates on a direct supervision model.

“The MCCF effectively houses minimum, medium and maximum-security levels in one building, providing a safe, orderly and secure environment with minimal tension,” the audit concluded.