Troy Cunningham Named Commander for Heroin Task Force.

BAY COUNTY, MI — The three-pronged attack on the ongoing heroin epidemic needling Bay County is taking form.

"The Bay County Heroin Task Force is utilizing a multiagency coordinating approach to the unified incident command system," said Bay County Health Department Director Joel Strasz. "There are three main areas of the task force — law enforcement/courts, treatment providers, and public health/prevention."

 seized heroin

seized heroin

Appointed as the unified commander of the law enforcement/courts division is Bay County Undersheriff Troy Cunningham. "The sheriff's office is the largest law enforcement agency in the county," Strasz said regarding Cunningham's selection. "They have a wide jurisdiction, and it makes sense really to have someone with those ties with all the local departments, whether it's the city, the townships, or the state police. He's got good connections with the court systems and some of the treatment providers out there. It's a really good fit, a good conduit to the other groups working as well." Strasz is acting as Cunningham's counterpart in the public health/prevention sector, and Dr. William Morrone is in charge of the treatment provider division. Morrone is Bay County's chief deputy medical examiner and chief medical officer for Recovery Pathways in Bay City and Ortonville. 

In his new position, Cunningham "will coordinate law enforcement and court efforts as much as he can for the general strategy of the task force," Strasz said.

 Undersheriff Troy Cunningham 

Undersheriff Troy Cunningham 

"It's extremely important to get the knowledge and education out there on the dangers of heroin," Cunningham said. "We've got several things we're putting together to get this task force up and going."

In June, the Bay County Board of Commissioners unanimously authorized the Health Department to seek grant funding to equip police and other first responders with naloxone. The substance is an opioid antagonist administered to those in the grips of an overdose. Once the substance is delivered into the overdose victim's system, the sufferer is almost immediately brought out of the opiate's grip.

Cunningham said deputies are training in the use of naloxone and they'll have it in their patrol vehicles.

Strasz's agency in June issued a public health advisory regarding the surge of opiate-related overdoses. That advisory remains in effect.

In the wake of the advisory, several public town halls were held for officials and citizens to discuss the issue. In one hosted by state Rep. Charles M. Brunner, D-Bay City, on Nov. 9, Cunningham said Bay County had a total 117 reported drug overdoses in 2014, compared to 183 at that point in 2015.

According to preliminary autopsy reports, 25 people in 2015 died of drug overdoses, Strasz has said. For comparison, 18 people died of overdoses in 2014, 21 in 2013, and 24 in 2012. 

On Friday, Feb. 12, Strasz participated in a meeting with county officials and experts to put together a comprehensive, community-based strategy to arrest the problem. Strasz said the plan is still in development but should be rolled out in May. 

Cunningham Secures Grants for New Protective Armor

Should a mass-shooting event happen in Bay County, area police have some new equipment at their disposal to keep them safe as they combat the situation.

The Bay County Sheriff's Office in September applied for grants to obtain active-shooter kits, which contain heavy-duty vests, helmets, goggles and trauma kits including tourniquets and QuikClot, a sand-like substance that stops bleeding quickly. In December, the office received a $6,751 grant from the Bay Area Community Foundation and $7,500 from the Justice Assistance Grant to purchase the gear.

Since mid January, the sheriff's office has received 20 kits, with a total of 30 expected by the end of February.

The vests, made by Spartan Armor Systems of Tucson, Ariz., weigh 17 ½ pounds.

"We'll have enough vests so that every deputy will have one," said Undersheriff Troy Cunningham. "Right now, the guys have soft body armor that they wear underneath their uniforms every day, which stops handguns and small rifles. What these will do is stop a lot of armor-piercing rounds and larger-caliber rifles like .30-06, .30-30s, .270s."

Bay County Sheriff's Deputy Art Kleinert with Lisa Cleland from the Bay Area Community Foundation.Courtesy Art Kleinert 

The vests are outfitted with two steel plates, which are designed to prevent a projectile from fragmenting and spewing shrapnel upon impact, Cunningham added.

The kits did not cost Bay County or the sheriff's office any money, Cunningham said.

Deputies won't be donning theses vests for their daily duties. The kits will be in deputies' patrol vehicles, ready for use if a situation calls for it.

"If the deputies are out and someone has a gun or we hear there is an active shooter or a mass casualty situation, they'll be ready to throw these vests on over top of their uniforms," Cunningham said.

In August, police participated in a school shooting training scenario at the Bay-Arenac ISD Career Center in Monitor Township. The sheriff's office applied for the grants after that training.

"The reason we did this is with all of the events and everything that's going on throughout the nation and some of the rising trends with active shooters ... this gives our guys a way to be better equipped to handle those situations," Cunningham said. "It's a way to make them a lot safer."

The undersheriff added he wants to thank the Bay Area Community Foundation for its part in keeping deputies safe. 

Bay County authorities taking extra precautions for Halloween

BAY COUNTY, MI — Bay County authorities are advising area goblins and ghouls to exercise some safety precautions this Halloween weekend to ensure mischief doesn't get out of hand.

"We want to be proactive rather than reactive," said Bay County Undersheriff Troy Cunningham.

In particular, Cunningham is urging trick-or-treaters to use flashlights or wear glowsticks. From the other end of the spectrum, he's urging motorists to be aware of the kids, who are going to be out in droves on Halloween, Saturday, Oct. 31.

Also, police are asking costumed adults refrain from wearing their masks into businesses such as gas stations or convenience stores, frequent targets of armed robberies.

"That's a big problem every year," Cunningham said.

A particular concern this year surrounds Bay County home improvement stores. Cunningham referred to possible arsons that occurred at Home Depot stores in Flint Township on Wednesday, Oct. 28, and in Saginaw County's Kochville Township on Friday, Oct. 30. Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel said two men may have started a blaze in the insulation aisle of the Kochville Township location, then fled with stolen power tools.

Cunningham said if arsonists are moving north from Flint to Saginaw, Bay County would be their next logical stopping point. To get ahead of the potential threat, he has teamed up with Bangor Township Fire Chief Rob Glenn and Monitor Township Fire Chief John Kramer to work with the management team at the Home Depot in Bangor Township, 3860 State St., and at Menards, 2864 Wilder road.

"They've contacted the stores to make sure they're aware of it," Cunningham said.

Both stores are on heightened security and the sheriff's office is going to have extra deputies patrol the area through the weekend, Cunningham said.

Most importantly, though, police want the citizens to be vigilant and cognizant of their surroundings.

"If you're aware of suspicious activity, call 911," Cunningham said.