Should all overdose deaths be crime scenes?

Posted at 3:33 PM, Jun 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-01 19:33:24-04

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn is now exploring the idea of having all overdose deaths treated as crime scenes so police can better collect evidence and track down drug dealers.

Flynn is looking closely at the "Overdose Response Initiative" that is in effect for Staten Island by the Richmond County District Attorney's Office.

Under that program, police work closely with the victim's family to gather information about the source of the killer drugs.

Cell phones from the victim are collected, and with the family's consent, data is retrieved relating to the purchase of the fatal drugs. Investigators probe social media contacts to backtrack to the drug dealers. The initiative also provides assistance to grieving families at a very difficult time.  It is credited with three major take-downs and fifteen arrests.

"We are sending a message to the drug dealers that we are coming for you," said Thomas Ridges, Special Counsel for the Office of the District Attorney in Richmond County (Staten Island). Ridges explained that the initiative was started after it was realized that many overdose deaths were being overlooked and considered accidental.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn is sending two assistant district attorneys to Staten Island to put together a fact-finding report on Staten Island's initiative.

Flynn then plans to share the report with local police agencies to get feedback on whether it is feasible to implement in Erie County.

In the attached video clip, Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein shares her thoughts on the idea.

7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly also spoke with Thomas Ridges, Special Counsel for the Office of District Attorney - Richmond County, to get more information about how the Staten Island initiative works and if it has been successful.

The Erie County Sheriff's Office strongly supports the idea, but adds that it already treats all suspicious deaths as crime scenes.