Federal seized asset money is helping ramp up local efforts to identify illegal drugs, saving time, money and, law enforcement officials said, sending the tab back to those they believe should be picking it up in the first place — criminals.
In Sampson County, those efforts come in the form of a mobile field lab that allows officers to quickly identify illegal substances without having to use an expensive drug kit or send samples off to a backlogged State Bureau of Investigation laboratory.
“It’s a win-win for us,” said Sampson Sheriff Jimmy Thornton as he gave a walk-through of the Centice lab, purchased about six months ago and, drug officers said, used ever since.
“This device uses Raman spetroscopy technology for data collection and software for the analysis and library matching for effective identification of controlled substances,” said the county’s Special Investigations Division captain, who asked that his name not be used because of the sensitive nature of his job.
“It’s very, very beneficial to us in many ways. It saves time, it identifies drugs quickly, allowing us to charge people faster and it doesn’t have to be sent somewhere else before we can know for certain what we’re dealing with,” the captain stressed.
Thornton said his department purchased the mobile field lab, at a cost of $15,000, with money returned through federal seized asset funds.
“We put that money to good use, and what’s more, it saves the taxpayers money while, at the same time forcing the drug dealers to pay for it. That’s as it should be,” Thornton asserted.
But the benefits are not just directed at those who commit crimes. In fact, the drug captain said, it can prevent someone from being charged with a felony.
He used as an example a recent case where a high school student was caught with a powder substance in his possession, something officers immediately suspected was cocaine.
The test, however, proved otherwise.
“The kid was passing it off as something it wasn’t. He had crushed up this powder substance and when we caught up to him and found the substance, we used the field lab to test it.”
What was initially thought to be cocaine turned out to be crushed up Advil.
“The quick testing saved that kid from facing a felony, having something on his record that’s hard to overcome. And it all came down to being able to test that substance on the spot,” the drug captain said.
Thornton said the on-the-spot testing was a powerful tool and one his department was fortunate to now have in place.
“It allows our officers to identify the majority of the illegal substances they encounter in the field. There are so many pills out there, this gives us fast and accurate information. It ID’s pills and powder substances, pretty much anything, even trace amounts can be identified.”
And the sheriff stressed, you don’t lose any of the drugs in the testing process, something that happens when officers use a drug testing kit or send it off to a lab.
“It saves time, it saves money, we hang on to more evidence, and it allows you to know very quickly what you are dealing with. ” the sheriff said.
The mobile testing lab, Thornton said, has been used on nearly every drug investigation that’s been conducted since its purchase.
“It’s been very beneficial; it’s a great piece of equipment and a tool that not only benefits us but citizens as well, particularly because we didn’t use any taxpayer money to purchase something that we believe is needed. Like I said, the drug dealers are paying for this … that is always a plus,” Thornton said.
Centice Corporation is the maker of the mobile lab and is a leader in delivering what officers call unique technology and systems for the identification of narcotic and pharmaceutical substances. The company, founded in 2004 from technology created at Duke University, is headquartered in Morrisville.
According to the Centice website, its products enable law enforcement, narcotic squads and drug task forces to quickly and easily perform drug identification without destroying any evidence. Based on the spectroscopy technology, the system scans unknown substances and pills and identifies its unique spectral fingerprint, comparing it to a library of over 3,800 narcotics and prescription pills, precursors, cutting agents and synthetic drugs. The technology identifies both prescription pills that have been broken, scraped or crushed as well as mixtures in illicit substances.
“It’s just a great, great tool; we are fortunate to have the funds to purchase this type of equipment,” Thornton said.