Drug Courts, Trafficking Topics of House Republican Policy Hearing

The House Republican Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), held the third in a series of hearings on drug enforcement policies Thursday in Montgomery County.

The hearing, held at Ursinus College in Collegeville, was co-chaired by Reps. Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong/Indiana), Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery), Tom Quigley (R-Montgomery), Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery) and Jay Moyer (R-Montgomery). 

“We have a serious drug problem in Montgomery County,” Vereb said.  “As a former police officer, I know firsthand the challenges that law enforcement face in attempting to make our communities safe and drug-free.  We want to be able to provide law enforcement officials here and throughout the state with the resources to combat this problem.” 

“I want to assure everyone that the Legislature fully understands the problems of drugs in our communities, and we are serious in our efforts to combat them,” said Mensch.  “In these efforts, such as this hearing, we are seeking to raise awareness and to provide tools to fight drug abuse, and to discourage others from taking up drugs.  We support strengthening law enforcement efforts in this area.” 

Reps. Bernie O’Neill (R-Bucks), Carole Rubley (R-Chester), Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny), Julie Harhart (R-Lehigh/Northampton) and Doug Reichley (R-Lehigh) were also in attendance.

Testifiers included officials from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, various law enforcement officers, as well as drug enforcement and treatment experts.

“Today we heard testimony from people who are out there every day, fighting the war against drugs,” Turzai said.  “The testifiers provided several tangible, concrete suggestions on ways to improve drug enforcement.  The purpose of these hearings is to gather as much information as possible to determine how the enforcement process can be enhanced legislatively.” 

Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor was the first to testify.  A major focus of Castor’s testimony was the issue of illegal immigrants bringing drugs into Montgomery County.  Law enforcement officials brought in 1,000 pounds of marijuana and 140 bricks of cocaine to visually demonstrate the amount of drugs that have been confiscated from drug trafficking rings run by illegal immigrants in Montgomery County.  The drugs were confiscated from three individual drug busts involving Mexican nationals.  Castor added that the safety of law enforcement officials is often at risk because weapons and drugs go hand in hand.

“We don’t want Montgomery County or Pennsylvania to be a stopping place for drug traffickers,” Castor said.  “Whenever you have large amounts of drugs, you have dangerous weapons and our law enforcement officers are at risk every time they report to work.”

Castor, along with the law enforcement panel, stated their frustration with drug dealers thwarting law enforcement through the use of Trac cell phones, which are often hard to trace because there are no calling plans and minutes are purchased in advance.  Both panels conceded that criminals are sometimes able to stay a few steps ahead of law enforcement officials by frequently changing their cell phones.

“Drug trafficking has been a serious problem plaguing the Commonwealth for years, and it is continuing to get worse,” Pyle said.  “The Legislature must put in to place the necessary tools and resources that are desperately needed by those fighting on the front lines.”

Steven O’Neill, Montgomery County judge for the Court of Common Pleas, testified on the effectiveness of drug courts.  He said that drug treatment courts are an intensive, treatment-based alternative to the system currently in place.

“Drug court treatment based program can change lives,” said O’Neill.  “Treatment goes hand in hand with enforcement.  Drug courts work.  They save lives and they save taxpayers dollars.”

The Policy Committee will continue to hold drug enforcement hearings across the Commonwealth. 

Rep. Mike Turzai
28th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

(412) 369-2230
Contact:  Tricia Graham
House Republican Public Relations
(717) 260-6296