Surrounded by numerous political and law enforcement leaders from various levels of government, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced the creation of a new reward program that encourages citizens to confidentially help authorities capture and convict illegal opioid dealers.
The reward program is being conducted in partnership with Crime Stoppers Buffalo and is being funded with $25,000 collected from forfeitures in past criminal cases. Citizens whose confidential calls to Crime Stoppers result in arrests and convictions of those illegally distributing opioids will receive rewards up to $2,500.
"If you look at this crisis, I think it's a three-legged stool. You have prevention, you have treatment and you have law enforcement," Erie County Legislator Edward Rath III said. "In many ways law enforcement has been fighting has been fighting hard to root out this incredible epidemic. This is another creative approach that law enforcement can use to fight this fight."
District Attorney Flynn explained the idea was launched several months ago during a coffee conversation with Rath.
"Obviously my interest was piqued," Flynn said. "I immediately spoke to the mayor and said 'what do you think about this?', the mayor said this is a great idea."
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown was among the many elected leaders joining Flynn for the announcement. The District Attorney presented a ceremonial $20,000 check to Crime Stoppers chairman Kevin Hoffman. The City of Buffalo has committed an additional $25,000.
"Opioid dealing, in particular, has life and death consequences," Brown said. "Hundreds, literally hundreds of people in our community have lost their lives because of the impact, the negative impact, of opioid dealers selling these illegal drugs in our community."
Officials welcomed the recently-announced statistics showing that opioid-related fatalities in Erie County in 2017 were down from the year before. But leaders warn that even those who have successfully completed treatment remain in danger of returning to addiction at the hands of their dealers.
Erie County Legislator Thomas Loughran recalled how he, Rath and others in that governing body hosted families directly touched by the opioid epidemic at a budget hearing, where they listened to their stories.
"There's a common threat of frustration that they get treatment, they get on track and then these drug dealers... these predators come back after they've made some progress," Loughran said.
Backers of this new initiative say it gets the community involved in tackling what is both a criminal and community health issue.
"One of the takeaways that should be out in the community is that now you have a voice," said US Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. "I think so often, we see that people in the community see the carnage that this drug is creating and they feel helpless. You're not helpless anymore. You can pick up the phone and make a phone call and you can get in the fight against opioids."