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Union County Prisoners of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Remembrance Day

Union County Freeholder Christopher Hudak and Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski joined Union County Sheriff Peter Corvelli, Union County Manager Ed Oatman, Deputy County Manager Amy Wagner, Office of Veteran Services Coordinator Janna Williams, Brigadier General Edward Chrystal, Berkeley Heights Mayor Angie Devanney and members of local veterans groups at the Union County Prisoners of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Remembrance Day ceremony on the steps of the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth.

The annual event is sponsored by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders to honor and remember prisoners of war and those missing in action. The National POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed each year on the third Friday of September.

(Photos by Jim Lowney/County of Union)

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New Officers and Security Guards Sworn in

This week we swore in 5 new Sheriff’s Officers and 2 new Sheriff’s Security Guards. The new Sheriff’s Officers are all military veterans: Briana Hall of Elizabeth (US Army Reserve), Josue Jaramillo of Elizabeth (US Navy), Francisco Estrada IV of Union (US Army National Guard), Alphonso Davis Jr. of Elizabeth (US Army National Guard) and James J. Duffy of Summit (US Army National Guard).

The new security officers are Sheriff’s Security Guards are Naomi McNeill of Linden and Jonathan Schulz of Union.

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StringKing and Tree City Donation

On behalf of the Union County Sheriff’s Office, I would like to thank StringKing for donating 250 surgical masks and Tree City – A Good Place To Be for donating hand sanitizer to our office.

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Freeholder Board, Sheriff’s Office and United Way of Greater Union County Organize Food Assistance for Residents

Today the Union County Freeholder Board, Sheriff Peter Corvelli and his officers assisted in the distribution of 14 pallets of fresh and shelf-safe food in partnership with United Way of Greater Union County. The food, donated by Amazon Logistics, was provided to United Way and transferred to  20 local social service agencies that will give it to individuals and families in need throughout Union County.

“On behalf of the Freeholder Board, I thank Amazon, United Way, and our local partners for working together to bring relief to families who are struggling with the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella. “The need is great, and I hope this generous donation inspires other acts of giving in our community.”

“Today’s effort builds on our longstanding, collaborative efforts with business leaders, nonprofits and local relief agencies. Thanks to Amazon and United Way, we are able to redouble our efforts to provide assistance to our residents during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis,” said Freeholder Sergio Granados, who organized the distribution with Freeholder Angela R. Garretson.

“The invaluable partnership with the United Way of Greater Union County and our local municipalities benefit from so many acts of kindness.  The Amazon donations are greatly appreciated, as each substantially advances support for individuals and families in Union County,” said Freeholder Garretson.

“This is a very important milestone in our charge to ensure Union County residents continue to have access to food during this time of the pandemic. Thanks to the continued support of Amazon Logistics, the partnership with the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and our community partners, we will be able to help alleviate some of those barriers families face as result of the Coronavirus,” said James W. Horne, Jr., President and CEO of United Way of Greater Union County.

Organizations and businesses and that wish to donate food in Union County can contact Nathalie Hernandez, coordinator of the Union County Office of Diversity and Community Engagement, at nhernandez@ucnj.org.

For more information and updates on all Union County services during the COVID-19 outbreak,  including guidance on the Union County Drive-Through Test Center at Kean University, visit ucnj.org/coronavirus-update.

For general information about COVID-19 and phone contacts for 24/7 assistance with questions, visit the New Jersey Department of Health at nj.gov/health.

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Union County Sheriff’s Office K9 Ceasar Receives Donation of Body Armor

Union County Sheriff Peter Corvelli and Sheriff’s Officer Nelson Agurto thank Dr. Julie Tropeano for sponsoring a bullet and stab protective vest for Union County Sheriff’s Office K9 Ceasar.

Union County Sheriff’s Office K9 Ceasar has received a bullet and stab protective vest thanks to a charitable donation from non-profit organization Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. The vest was sponsored by Dr. Julie Tropeano of Lincroft, NJ and embroidered with the sentiment “In memory of Mark Hratko”.

Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. is a 501c(3) charity located in East Taunton, MA whose mission is to provide bullet and stab protective vests and other assistance to dogs of law enforcement and related agencies throughout the United States. The non-profit was established in 2009 to assist law enforcement agencies with this potentially lifesaving body armor for their four-legged K9 officers. Since its inception, Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. provided over 3,500 U.S. made, custom fitted, NIJ certified protective vests in 50 states, through private and corporate donations, at a value of $6.9 million dollars.

The program is open to dogs actively employed in the U.S. with law enforcement or related agencies who are certified and at least 20 months of age. New K9 graduates, as well as K9s with expired vests, are eligible to participate.

The donation to provide one protective vest for a law enforcement K9 is $950.00. Each vest has a value between $1,744 – $2,283, and a five-year warranty and an average weight of 4-5 lbs. There is an estimated 30,000 law enforcement K9s throughout the United States. For more information or to learn about volunteer opportunities, please call 508-824-6978. Vested Interest in K9s, Inc. provides information, lists events, and accepts tax-deductible donations of any denomination at www.vik9s.org or mailed to P.O. Box 9 East Taunton, MA 02718.

(Photo by Jim Lowney/County of Union)

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Lightbridge Academy of Westfield Donates “Bite Suit” to Union County K-9 Search & Rescue Unit

Union County Sheriff Peter Corvelli and Sheriff’s Officer Nelson Agurto thank Sue Romano, the owner of Lightbridge Academy in Westfield, for the donation of a training “bite suit” to the Sheriff’s The K-9 Search & Rescue Unit. Romano, a Scotch Plains resident, and Lightbridge Academy regularly give back to the community through donations to local organizations such as food pantries, school groups and animal shelters with monthly fundraising. For more information about the child care center, visit www.lightbridgeacademy.com. (Photo by Jim Lowney/County of Union)

 

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Distinguished Service Certificate presented to Officer Brendan Carlos

On Friday, Sheriff Peter Corvelli joined Undersheriffs Dennis Burke and Amilcar Colon in presenting a Distinguished Service Certificate to Officer Brendan Carlos in recognition of his continued service to our country after recently returning from an extended deployment overseas while serving as a member of the New Jersey National Guard.

Officer Carlos of Kenilworth is Staff Sergeant in the United States Army who completed two tours for a total of 18 months overseas in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, posted in the Kingdom of Bahrain and in Djibouti, Africa.

Welcome back Officer Carlos and again, thank you for your service.

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Walkout Ceremony for Officer Lisa Santos and Captain Mark Banek

Officer Lisa Santos with 25 years of service and Captain Mark Banek with over 30 years of service retired today from the Union County Sheriff’s Office. Their retirement was marked with a traditional walkout ceremony on the steps of the Union County Courthouse.


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Attorney General Grewal and the Union County Prosecutor’s Office Unveil “Operation Helping Hand 24/7/365”

Hand addiction intervention program to operate year-round, 24-hours a day, according to a joint announcement made Tuesday afternoon by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo, and Prevention Links Chief Executive Officer Morgan Thompson.  Under the new program, all suspects arrested in the county for low-level possessory offenses involving heroin or other opioids will be offered face-to-face access to rehabilitative services at the time of arrest.

The program is part of an effort to address the ongoing opioid epidemic, which continues to affect New Jersey and the country generally.  In the past five years, more than 500 people in Union County have died due to a drug overdose.

“Using as our model the program Attorney General Grewal started in Bergen County as Prosecutor and expanded statewide as Attorney General, Union County hopes to bring life-saving recovery assistance to those in the throes of addiction through our launch of Operation Helping Hand 24/7/365,” Prosecutor Ruotolo said. “The opioid epidemic has had a devastating cost in lives lost and futures diminished.  We in law enforcement recognize that while we continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute those who profit from poisoning the people we serve, we must do more in our fight to save the lives of those who have fallen prey to addiction.  Operation Helping Hand 24/7/365 is our effort to do more, and we are grateful for the partnership we have with Prevention Links, and the support we have from state and county government, to accomplish this goal of doing more.”

In support of the new initiative, Prosecutor Ruotolo has issued a directive mandating that every law enforcement agency countywide put protocols in place to ensure a smooth and all-encompassing implementation of the program.  Operation Helping Hand 24/7/365 requires that law enforcement officers offer all individuals arrested for possessory level opioid offenses the option to meet face-to-face with a peer recovery coach from Prevention Links at the time of their arrest.  If the individual decides to avail themselves of the program, a peer recovery coach from Prevention Links will respond to police headquarters to meet with the individual to discuss recovery options and coordinate access to services.  The individual’s criminal charges are not discharged as the law enforcement officers are required to uphold the law, but as Ruotolo said, “not doing more in that moment is a lost opportunity for law enforcement to bring help to those who need it.” 

“Union County’s expansion of its Operation Helping Hand program to a year-round, 24/7 service demonstrates the kind of commitment we were looking for when we encouraged counties to implement pilot programs reflecting OHH’s core concept of proactively engaging law enforcement in reaching out to at-risk individuals,” said Attorney General Grewal. “By taking the unprecedented step of offering OHH intervention and support services on a continuous basis, Union County assumes a leadership role in the fight to end the addiction epidemic and brings hope to the countless individuals impacted by this devastating health crisis.” 

This initiative, and others geared toward addressing the opioid epidemic, have been bolstered by grant funding obtained from state and county government. Specifically, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office was recently awarded $62,500 from the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety’s 2019 Overdose Data to Action Operation Helping Hand Grant.  The Union County Prosecutor’s Office is also the recipient of $100,000 in grant funding through Governor Phil Murphy’s Operation Helping Hand Grant.  The acceptance of the aforementioned grant funding was approved by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and County Manager Edward T. Oatman.  In addition, the Freeholders, and Director Debbie-Ann Anderson, of the Department of Human Services have awarded grant funding to Prevention Links in support of the incredible services they provide county residents.  The Freeholders also dedicated $110,000 in direct County funding to Prevention Links for the expansion of the Operation Helping Hands program for 2020.  The Union County Prosecutor’s Office is able to allocate a portion of the grant funds received from the State to Prevention Links, and combining those funds with what was awarded from the Board of Chosen Freeholders, Prevention Links was able to hire additional staff so that Prevention Links could serve as the primary rehabilitative partner in this innovative law enforcement initiative.

In 2016, while serving as the Bergen County Prosecutor, Attorney General Grewal developed Operation Helping Hand as a new and innovative way to combat opioid addiction. Under his leadership, the first multi-county “Operation Helping Hand” initiative was launched in five counties, including Union, in June 2018. Through state and federal funding, the Operation Helping Hand program was expanded to 17 counties in September 2018, and to all 21 counties in the state in September 2019.

In May 2019, Union County law enforcement agencies pooled their resources for a second week-long Operation Helping Hand session, during which approximately 88 percent of the 148 people contacted through the program agreed to engage in some form of rehabilitative assistance. Of the individuals who accepted help, 56 were entered into inpatient detox treatment, 43 entered intensive outpatient or community-based support program, and 29 entered medically assisted treatment. Remarkably, included in those accepting help at the time were 25 “walk-ins” – drug users who were not arrested, but had heard about the program through word of mouth and approached law enforcement for recovery assistance.

The statewide expansion of Operation Helping Hand has been fueled in part by $1 million in federal funding and $2.2 million in state funding dedicated during the last two years alone. This is, however, the first anywhere that the program has been implemented full time.

“This initiative has shown and will continue to show a commitment on the part of our county to leverage every opportunity to connect individuals struggling with addiction to a life of recovery,” Thompson said. “For some, this may be the first time they are ever offered help.”  Thompson and Prevention Links have been a Union County partner in Operation Helping Hand from its inception.

The expansion of Operation Helping Hand to the new 24/7/365 model is one of many ways that law enforcement is working to address the opioid epidemic in Union County.  Earlier this year, Prosecutor Ruotolo formed the Opioid Task Force, which operates out of the Major Crimes Division of the Prosecutor’s Office, and tasked it with helping persons suffering from opioid addiction get the help necessary to address their disease, while also aggressively investigating those profiting from the sale of heroin and the deadly fentanyl.

In 2017, the Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery (CLEAR) program was launched, sponsored by the Union County Board of Freeholders, Union County Sheriff’s Office, Union County Prosecutor’s Office, and Union County Police Department. Through the program, citizens seeking help can travel to one of two locations – the Union County Sheriff’s Office in the New Annex Courthouse basement level, 27 Elizabethtown Plaza in Elizabeth, and the Union County Police Department headquarters, 300 North Ave. E., Westfield – anytime from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays, where they can be connected to addiction recovery services free of charge and turn over user-level quantities of drugs and paraphernalia without fear of arrest, prosecution, or questioning.  These services will continue, and Operation Helping Hand 24/7/365 is an expansion of these innovative efforts.

In addition, since 2014, patrol officers countywide have been equipped with supplies of naloxone, a lifesaving overdose-reversal drug. Since that time, police have deployed the drug more than 1,000 times, with more than 90 percent of recipients surviving.

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Union County Sheriff’s Office Hosts Children’s Coloring/Activity Book Competition for Spring 2020

The Union County Sheriff’s office will be hosting a free, Children’s Coloring/Activity Book competition for the Spring of 2020. High School students will be eligible to create a child’s coloring/activity book that centers around one the following topics: Bullying and/or Cyberbullying, Internet Safety, Police Officers are Your Friends, Traffic Safety, Personal Safety, Drug Safety or Weapon Safety.

“This program provides a tremendous opportunity for high school students to use their creativity and impart valuable information to younger students,” said Union County Sheriff Peter Corvelli.

The competition is open to High School students only. High Schools will be eligible to submit as many applications to the competition as they wish. The book content must be appropriate for students aged Kindergarten through 5th grade. One winner will be chosen from each submitted topic. The winning books will be published and distributed throughout Union County community events starting this summer.

Registration forms to enter the competition must be submitted by February 14, 2020 with all entries in the competition to be submitted by May 8, 2020.  The registration form can be filled out online at https://ucnj.org/sheriff/childrens-coloring-and-activity-book-competition/. Entries must be submitted via email in a PDF format to thalpin@ucnj.org, as well as mailed in a printed copy to:

Union County Sheriff’s Office c/o Tara Halpin
10 Elizabethtown Plaza
Elizabeth, NJ 07207

Interested students and residents can learn more about the contest, rules for book entries, and details on the prospective topics at https://ucnj.org/sheriff/childrens-coloring-and-activity-book-competition/, or by contacting Sergeant Tara Halpin at 908-527-4032 or thalpin@ucnj.org.