In the last decade, heroin use has increased dramatically in Florida and throughout the United States. The drug accounts for more than 250,000 emergency room visits each year, as well as several thousand deaths. Usage trends suggest that those numbers are unlikely to diminish anytime soon.
That’s why one Florida law enforcement official has taken matters into his own hands. Earlier this month, the sheriff of Lake County became something of an internet sensation after holding a press conference in which he warned “the dealers who are pushing this poison” that “we are coming for you.” He suggested his swat team had already identified several dealers and that, whenever a link could be established between a drug sale and an overdose, his department would charge the seller with murder.
Should dealers be worried? Should anyone else?
The video was viewed more than 1 million times and received coverage in The New Times, The Huffington Post, and on “Fox & Friends.” The attention stems in no small part from the clip’s sensationalistic character. The sheriff stood at a podium flanked by deputies in SWAT gear and ski masks.
Public reaction to the video has been mixed. Many residents lamented the militarization of police and expressed fear about racial profiling and wrongful arrests. Others applauded the department’s efforts to tighten up on crime. This isn’t so surprising – the heroin epidemic has touched many Floridians. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid-related overdose deaths increased by 22 percent in Florida between 2014 and 2015 (the last year for which data is available). Twenty-four such fatalities took place in Lake County.
More videos will lead to more arrests
The video, which carried the ulterior motive of prompting locals to report illicit activity to the sheriff’s department, seems to have had an immediate effect. Since its release, officers have made several arrests through undercover work and anonymous tips.
The sheriff has more videos planned, believing they are an important means to prevent crime and educate the public about his department’s activities. He doesn’t expect each clip to generate the same amount of attention. “Times change, technology changes,” he said. “We need our public’s help.”