State highway Route 23 is the busiest roadway that runs through the tri-boro, with bustling big-box businesses lining both sides from Wayne past West Milford.
Because of its popularity as a transportation route between several municipalities, the highway is an area that requires regular police patrols, not just for speeders but for individuals driving with drugs.
Some residents have even referred to Route 23 as "heroin highway," although law enforcement officials said their focus is on all drugs and not just getting them off the highway, but out of the communities altogether.
In the past two months alone, three large quantity suspected heroin arrests have been made on Route 23. On July 31, during an arrest of three men. The week prior, Kinnelon police from men from Vernon and Franklin. On Aug. 8, a pair of brothers from Wantage were charged with drug possession
Chief Edward Card said heroin has gained popularity in the past several years. Card said Butler police have seen an increase in prescription medications as well and that the effects can be similar to that of heroin.
"Heroin's just a dirtier version of a prescription drug," he said. "I think that we're seeing a higher volume of heroin now and, of course, the more people who use it, our arrests are going to reflect that."
Card said the types of drugs that are being used and sold change as time goes on. Whereas marijuana may have been more popular in the '70s and '80s, Card said heroin has become a social drug of this generation.
However, Card said he does not believe there are necessarily more heroin arrests on the highway than elsewhere in the
"I don't know that you can say that Route 23 and heroin are synonymous in any way," he said.
According to data supplied by the police departments (see below), there have been 30 drug arrests on Route 23 in Butler so far this year, compared with 48 for the entire year in 2011. In Kinnelon, 12 drug arrests have been made so far on Route 23 this year and 23 were made in 2011 throughout the entire year.
While the number of drug arrests on Route 23 appears to have remained somewhat constant in both boroughs over the past two years, according to Kinnelon police, in 2011, Route 23 drug arrests made up nearly half of the total number of drug arrests (63) in the . In May and July of this year, the number of Route 23 drug arrests in Kinnelon amounted to nearly the total number of drug arrests made throughout the borough for those months.
Only a small portion of Kinnelon occupies Route 23, but Lt. John Schwartz said the department finds maintaining a presence on the highway to be important for not only drug seizures, but safety as well.
"We cover a large area and have a pretty large call volume to go with it. It has always been necessary to be a presence on Route 23 because of the high speeds in which cars travel, which in turn results in serious accidents," he said.
Routine patroling on Route 23 has led to several drug arrests though, Schwartz said, and Kinnelon officers have been trained to follow instincts and communicate with people when they question something is not right.
"We encourage our officers to always take the opportunity to talk to people, ask questions and observe," Schwartz said. "You never know what will come of it. Sometimes nothing does but often times...it does."
Schwartz said Kinnelon has seen a growing trend with heroin over the past several years.
"As far as heroin goes, we have seen an increase in use, possession, overdoses and crimes we can directly attribute to its use," he said. "This change has occured dramatically over the past three to four years."
Butler police officers have also been specially trained to recognize indicators of those who may be in possession of drugs and have worked throughout the borough to seize drugs, in addition to regular patrols and other arrests. Butler officers have studied search and seizure procedures under the state Attorney General's Office guidelines and court rulings.
"It comes down to the officers being vigilant and being out there and looking for drugs and trying to get them off the streets of our neighborhoods," Card said.
Card also noted that the Butler Police Department does not focus on any one particular drug, but finds it important to rid the borough of any and all drugs.
Below is more information on the number of drug arrests on Route 23 over the past two years in both Butler and Kinnelon.
Butler Drug Arrests on Route 23*Month 2011 Arrests 2012 Arrests January 2 6 February 1 4 March 4 4 April 5 1 May 9 3 June 6 4 July 3 3 August 1 5 (as of Aug. 9) September 3 N/A October 5 N/A November 6 N/A December 3 N/A TOTAL 48 30 (to date)
Kinnelon Drug Arrests on Route 23Month 2011 Arrests 2012 Arrests January
2 (as of Aug. 23)
12 (to date)
*Information provided by the Butler and Kinnelon Police Departments. Statistics include all types of drug-related offenses, including heroin, cocaine, marijuana, unlawful prescription medication, steroids and more.
Note: This story is the first in a series on drug arrests on Route 23.