Facing rising numbers of overdose-related deaths and crime rates, local and state officials have succeeded in getting Broome County federal attention to address the issue of drug trafficking.
On January 14 the county was designated a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), along with 13 others across America. The program, implemented in 1988, currently includes 28 counties across the country that a federal panel has judged as negatively impacted by the presence of drugs and the resulting crime. These counties have indicated that they need federal assistance and have shown a commitment to eradicating drug-related activities in the area.
The designation does not immediately provide funding, but essentially prioritizes funding for Broome in federal budget allocations after more assessments are made in the coming year, said Jared Kraham, the deputy mayor of Binghamton. Tentative plans include allocation to many levels of law enforcement, which would work with the Binghamton Police Department to target drug traffickers.
“The very nature of the designation is not necessarily a positive thing, but it releases a lot of resources,” he said. “For equipment, overtime, certain training, it really unlocks an entire new wave of federal funding that we can get.”
Binghamton’s location makes it a transportation hub for those traveling to and from major cities such as New York City, Buffalo and Philadelphia. This has created an ongoing flow of substances and increased substance abuse in the region, namely heroin and other opioids. This has resulted in the region ranking as the fourth-highest in meth lab seizure rates in New York State and a quadrupling in the number of drug-related overdoses over the past five years from 10 to 39, according to a press release from New York senator Charles Schumer, who local officials say was instrumental in securing the federal funding.
“For too long, heroin use, fatal overdoses and drug-related crimes have been on the rise, plaguing Upstate New York communities like those in Broome County,” Schumer said in the press release. “Broome deserves every federal resource possible to combat the growing scourge of drug trafficking.”
Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski said the designation stemmed from a combined effort of state and local officials, and will bring much-needed aid to the area.
“This designation will improve our department’s ability to secure new funding sources to aid in our continued battle against heroin and opiate drugs in Binghamton,” he said in a press release. “I thank Senator Schumer for fighting to get Broome County this HIDTA designation, and thank our Binghamton Police personnel who put in many hours to create a competitive application.”
This continued battle is fought in part by the Special Investigations Unit, which works to find grant opportunities, federal and state funding and more to be able to address the issue, which Kraham said is an expensive one.
“One of the biggest costs associated with these investigations is that you’re taking cops who were on the streets in these specialized units,” he said. “It’s very costly, it’s very time consuming. These grants can help us supplant some of these costs.”
Other programs the HIDTA typically fund focus on intelligence-sharing, assessing the breadth of the trafficking and developing strategies on how to best resolve drug issues. Partnerships with Domestic Highway Enforcement address multi-jurisdictional crackdowns, which Kraham said is especially relevant given Binghamton’s status as a transportation hub with access to highways like I-81 and NY-17.
“It’s really bad right now,” he said. “And we’re working hard to fix it.”