Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a tragedy to instigate change. It is sad but true that heartbreak can, now and again, become the strongest impetus for a call-to-arms. Such was the case earlier this summer, when a small, leafy hamlet in the Catskills was shook to its core by the deaths of two young boys. These native sons, taken before their time, overdosed on high-grade heroin.
All lives are sacred, every death a tragedy. But in a tiny town like Livingston Manor, NY, whose population registers at a paltry 1,200, each death represents a fairly sizable portion of the townspeople, and so each death is, perhaps, felt a little harder. Which is why the sheriff of Livingston Manor, Michael Schiff, took things to heart. His vendetta, and the retaliatory flurry of detective work it inspired, proved instrumental in the detection, unearthing, and eventual adjudication of the drug dealers responsible for providing these teens with the heroin that would ultimately claim their lives. Their deaths were twin points on a graph that was spiking fatally upwards- drug deaths in Michael Schiff’s county had risen among teens in each of the two previous years. And so one man’s quest to dig deeper, and spare his beloved small-town community from what was beginning to seem like a blossoming drug epidemic, became a project that may curtail future drug use and save countless future lives. Michael Schiff’s rise to action culminated in a multi-organizational, state-spanning drug takedown of epic proportions.
After the deaths of the two young boys, it could have been easy to find the local heroin slingers and slap them in cuffs. County Sheriff Schiff decided to take a different approach. Instead of the usual hasty arrest of the local street dealer, he opted to put a tail on the perpetrators, hoping they’d lead to a higher source. This meant countless hours of grudge work- time spent in patrol cars, shadowing their targets, and independent detective work with lo-fi gear. At this point, they were still operating without the help of larger agencies like the DEA or FBI, and importantly, without their high-tech equipment and manpower. It was two officers on the case, Thomas O’Connor and Jake Gorr, who picked up the trail of the dealers as they were en route to their home base. Following them ever southward, the officers kept a low profile and a keen eye on their marks. Eventually, they traced the fountainhead of the heroin operation to an apartment in the Bronx. After repeated undetected trips to the North Bronx, in sentinel pursuit, the officers were certain the location they’d repeatedly been led to was the epicenter of the drug ring.
Their dedication eventually drew the attention of those aforementioned government agencies; the DEA, the FBI, the NYPD, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Police were all eventually involved. A raid was scheduled, which sought to catch the kingpins red-handed. And the crescendo was almost cinematic in quality. The “big bust” saw multiple teams bust SWAT-like in through the tenement’s door, where workers in hazard masks worked diligently, packing white particulate into glassine baggies. Suspects burst from the room, attempting escape. Police officers pursued, through windows and back rooms, eventually apprehending all guilty parties. They recovered upwards of 26lbs. of heroin, $115,000 in cash, and two handguns from the apartment.
Officials said this operation spread its tendrils all throughout the state, ranging out from the city to Long Island and, of course, upstate New York.
County Sherriff Michael Schiff took the long view, exhibited patience on a grand scale, and maximized the return of justice on his diligence. Why? Likely because he realizes that drugs, and the drug culture, is an epidemic and institutional problem. Like the fabled hydra, whose individual heads grow back if lopped off one by one, so too must the drug problem in America be tackled with a more from-the-roots approach.