Get to know Ocean County’s newest Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer
Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer has now been on the job for almost two months of a five-year appointment where he plans to address a number of key issues affecting residents.
As the heroin and opioid epidemic continues to wreak havoc in our communities, Billhimer has put finding a solution at the top of his list of priorities.
Billhimer sees education as a key tool in fighting the epidemic, which he says is set to claim nearly 200 lives in Ocean County by years end.
Part of his plan moving forward is to work with Manchester Township Police and Chief Lisa Parker to bring their #NotEvenOnce program that began in 2016, countywide.
"I attended a training seminar with the Manchester Police Department and brought my first Assistant Prosecutor and my Chief of Detectives and we sat there and were just blown away at the level of sophistication of the program and that's something we're talking to Chief Parker about bringing countywide," Billhimer said. "I think we're going to try and have a module for 7th and 8th grade and another module for high school so that we could get them twice. It's three one hour classes."
Berkeley Township Police introduced the program during January of this year which included visits from recovering addicts using their second chance at life to tell students that if they could do it all over again, they would choose not to do drugs...even once.
With two legislative committees giving initial approval to a plan to legalize and regulate sales of marijuana to adults in New Jersey, the debate over how legal weed will impact law enforcement rages on.
At the Statehouse on Monday, Ocean County Sheriff Mike Mastronardy (who is also president of the Sheriff’s Association of New Jersey) and Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden both raised concerns about what legal weed will do to law enforcement.
“We have six dogs in our county (sheriff’s department) alone,” Mastronardy said, according to the Lavallette-Seaside & Ortley Beach Shorebeat. ” I’m going to lose three officers for a year as they train new K9's, and our current K9's are going to be deemed unusable.”
Mastronardy also disagreed with the idea discussed that legalizing marijuana, "is in the pursuit of a more equitable justice system."
“This isn’t about social justice. It’s about money – we all know that,” Mastronardy said.
Billhimer took no side on the issue in a visit to our WOBM studios on Tuesday morning but says legal pot will in fact provide a challenge to law enforcement in detecting a DUI.
"As a prosecutor I took an oath to uphold the law so I don't have an opinion on the pro's and con's," Billhimer said. "My concerns moving forward have to do a lot with the current bill and the way that it's written, it doesn't account for operating or driving under the influence. Right now, if you're operating under the influence of a narcotic or CDS, a drug recognition expert has to be called in which is a local police officer that has specific expertise but if marijuana is legal, you're going to need more of those officers."
Billhimer said if it's made legal, a better qualitative test will be needed to detect drivers under the influence.
"There's no way right now to tell when somebody ingested marijuana if they get caught driving in the car," Billhimer said. "It's in their bloodstream but it could be in there from 30-days ago, 25-days ago or 2-hours ago, we don't have any way of testing that so that's a challenge for law enforcement."
Does bail reform help or hurt more people?
Billhimer says it helps where it was designed to in releasing eligible prisoners who don't have access to money, but it hurts those addicted to drugs who are arrested for possession or with an intent to distribute and then released within 72-hours without enough time to detox.
"People who need treatment are getting out in three or four days and haven't sufficiently detoxed and now they're back on the streets," Billhimer said. "In the old days, you put a monetary bail on somebody that was charged with possession or possession with intent to distribute while somebody who was a user would stay in jail and the judge would order some kind of services and that would start the rehabilitation process...bail reform has taken that part of it away."
Billhimer said he's had conversations since taking office with Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden and Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni on how they're using resources to try and help those addicted to drugs.
"They're using all those available resources so that if somebody gets out on bail reform and they're released by a judge, they direct them right to the services," Billhimer said. "There's no guarantee they go to the services but the services are available at the point of release and that's something that I think we need to implement here in Ocean County."
Under the current law the only defendants who are ineligible to be released are those charged with a murder.
With more schools increasing security by adding armed police officers following recent shooting incidents, what else can be done to keep our students, teachers and staff safe?
Billhimer says it's an unfortunate sign of the times we live in where these officers are needed but the safety of our children is a top priority.
He feels all the right steps are being taken to protect your kids at school.
"We have a very aggressive plan that I reviewed as soon as I took office just to make sure that we have maps of the schools, we know if officers from other departments come to the schools they can access those maps and they (the schools) have active shooter drills," Billhimer said.
A key to making these plans work, Billhimer explained, is through a collaborative approach where everyone's goal is the same.