The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office is the hosting component of the Essex Narcotics Task Force. The Task Force was organized in 1987 as a multi-jurisdictional operation, and is responsible for the investigation of middle and upper level narcotics distribution cases. The Task Force approach resulted from the Statewide Action Plan for Narcotics Enforcement of 1987, which set forth a comprehensive approach to attack the drug abuse epidemic. The publication of the Attorney General’s 1993 Statewide Narcotics Action Plan recognized that diverse approaches to this crisis were necessary to continue a coordinated, cooperative and comprehensive approach to drug law enforcement. Certain areas of Essex County contain both a relatively large distributor population and a significant user population. The most commonly sold and abused drugs in Essex County continue to be heroin, cocaine (including crack), and marijuana. Within the past decade, drug traffickers in Essex County have resorted more frequently to the use of violence to further their criminal operations. Therefore, the Task Force approach is now targeted at middle and upper level drug traffickers in Essex County, as opposed to short-term investigations aimed at lower level traffickers.
The increased involvement of organized youth gangs in narcotics related activities in Essex County over the past few years has resulted in a high level of interaction between members of the Prosecutor’s Gang Intelligence Unit and members of the Narcotics Task Force. As a result of this interaction and in order to efficiently maximize limited resources, former Acting Prosecutor Campolo merged the Gang Intelligence Unit into the Narcotics Task Force in October 2001.
In 2008, as part of the Governor’s Crime Strategy Plan, the Gang Intelligence Unit was merged with the Narcotics Task Force to become the V.I.P.E.R. Unit (Violence Interdiction/Intelligence Prosecution Eradication Recidivism Unit). In 2012, this unit in turn was renamed the ECPO Narcotics/Gang Task Force. This task force, which operates both daytime and evening shifts, targets and prioritizes the most violent offender zones; gathers intelligence of confiscated firearms and enters ballistics into the National Integrated Ballistics Identification Network (NIBIN System); coordinates intelligence led policing strategies in cease fire grid areas with Newark and Irvington law enforcement officials; and conducts warrant roundups of wanted targets of gang violence, narcotics and firearm offenses in high crime ridden areas. In addition, the Narcotics/Gang Task Force coordinates daily with the Newark and East Orange Police Intelligence Units, the Essex County Corrections Department, neighboring outside police departments, and other County Prosecutors’ violent drug and gang task forces.
The prosecutors of the Narcotics/Gang Task Force vertically prosecute all cases initiated by Task Force detectives. The Narcotics/Gang prosecutors also review all narcotics and gang-related search warrants and provide legal advice to outside law enforcement agencies on the narcotics and gang issues. In 2010, Task Force prosecutors reviewed over 700 search warrants.
The ECPO Narcotics/Gang Task Force is partially supported by federal grant funds administered by the State of New Jersey. The Task Force is staffed, at present time, by County Detectives led by a Lieutenant, other state and local law enforcement officers, an Assistant Prosecutor/Director, three Assistant Prosecutors, and clerical support staff. The Unit is engaged in long term undercover operations targeting upper level drug dealers. In addition, the Unit conducts street level initiatives in Irvington, East Orange and Orange that are geared toward improving quality of life in designated high narcotics crime areas of those municipalities. The Unit also interacts with the DEA, U.S. Customs, U.S. Postal Inspectors and the Port Authority Police in order to interdict drugs being transported through Newark Airport and by means of the mail and private package delivery services.