Drugs a main topic at 'Coffee with Cops'

Cary Ashby • Updated Feb 8, 2019 at 8:05 AM

MILAN — “Coffee with Cops” was a time for Edison High School students to ask questions and share their concerns with three members of the Erie County law enforcement community.

Berlin Heights Police Chief Charity Schafer, Milan Police Chief Bob Meister and Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth spent two hours in Joe Collins’ College Credit Plus government class Wednesday morning.

Schafer said she thinks such experiences are important since they help students “see where we come from” and what officers face in various situations. The Berlin Heights police chief is regularly at Edison Middle School.

Meister, who monitors the Edison Elementary school zone every day, said “the earlier they’re exposed to the uniform,” the more comfortable students are with approaching an officer.

“It makes use more approachable and more human,” Schafer added.

Sigsworth shared with the students that the public often misinterprets the way a cop moves as being hostile. The sheriff said when someone sees an officer adjust his or her belt as they approach a vehicle during a traffic stop, it’s usually to better distribute the weight of the belt that has about 20 pounds of equipment — not that the officer is considering using his or her gun. Sigsworth also used a similar example of resting his hand near his holster while he is interacting with people.

“I just need someplace to put my hand,” he added.

Many of the students’ questions and concerns were about drug usage, addiction and the opioid epidemic.

In the case of many addicts, jail “is nothing more than a revolving door,” Sigsworth said, because after their arrest, “they get detoxed in the jail” and once released, “they turn right back to that life of crime again and they’re victimizing the whole community, including you.”

Meister added that addicts automatically look for “their fix” once they’re out of jail and they believe they can use the same amount of drugs before they were arrested, so “now we’re dealing with more overdose — and possibly deaths.”

When suspects see the full-body scanner at the Erie County Jail sally port, they often will tell deputies they have drugs in their possession to “avoid catching another felony,” Sigsworth said.

“Whatever helps keep that stuff out of the jail is beneficial,” the sheriff added.

Students asked questions about heroin and Narcan. First responders use Narcan to counteract an overdose.

“In the early 1970s, there was a heroin issue,” Sigsworth said, but it went away later in the decade because addicts “didn’t want to deal with the diseases associated with (using) needles” and they switched to powdered cocaine. The sheriff added there were opiate adddicts even during the Civil War and as a society, “we need to determine what are we going to do to stop this,” otherwise there will be the same conversations happening decades from now.

“Narcan actually is what’s called an opioid antagonist. It interferes with the ability of the opioid to affect the center of the brain that allows you to breathe, so it immediately allows you to breathe if you’re going through an opioid overdose,” the sheriff said.

Sigsworth said it’s common to find opioid addicts who look for the person dealing drugs that have caused an overdose because the addicts are looking for “a more intense high” and don’t believe they will OD. 

“It’s twisted logic and it’s a twisted sense of reality because they’re addicted — because their brains are under the influence of these drugs all day long,” he added.

One student said he feels safer walking down the hallway now that the sheriff’s office has established at substation at Edison. During school hours, deputies use EHS as a place to do administrative work when they are on patrol and often walk though the building.

A student asked Sigsworth what overall policy he would change if he had the power to do so.

“Do something like this every day,” the sheriff said, referring to “Coffee with Cops.” “Anything we can do to foster communication is what we have to do.” 

Norwalk Reflector Videos