Essex County Sheriff Agrees With Drug Law Changes, Halfway House Use

New Jersey law enforcement agencies are dealing with several issues, including new drug laws and the current halfway house controversy. Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he approves of the new drug laws, the use of halfway houses and encouraging other states to toughen gun laws.

Fontoura has seen law enforcement change a lot since he started as an officer during the Newark riots. He said current technology is “mind boggling” and those in law enforcement are keeping up with it as best they can.

Communication among police departments has been brought up again in light of the Colorado movie theater shooting. Fontoura said communication has gotten better among different departments. He said communication is good among law enforcement, even after the friction between New Jersey officials and the NYPD. According to Fontoura, he said some of the friction over the NYPD conducting surveillance in New Jersey may have been overblown. He said he didn’t know what NYPD employees were doing in New Jersey, but he knew they were in the state.

Changes have been made to New Jersey drug laws, which Fontoura said he agrees with. “Most people don’t understand that the best way for a drug dealer to make money so that he or she could use is by selling stuff, by selling drugs. That’s what they usually do. So we round up the same subjects, the same people, who are basically doing it because they’re hooked,” he said. “If we don’t treat them, they’re going to come back into the system. It’s just in and out, in and out.”

Halfway houses have come under fire since a New York Times series claimed the facilities are dangerous for those sent there and the public. But Fontoura said halfway houses are good for the system. He said Essex County alone has more than 15,000 outstanding warrants, which is much higher than the rate of people who walk away from halfway houses.


“Anybody that’s in there is not exactly not dangerous. There’s a slight danger in everyone. Of course I’m a cop so I’m going to say that. But the fact of the matter, there are folks that don’t belong in our jail and it’s much more cost effective if you’re providing treatment and training for them, it’s a lot better than just locking them up,” Fontoura said. “Before you know it we have about 35,000 people in our jails at one time. That’s a little ridiculous.”

Gun control is a hot topic now in light of the Colorado shooting that killed 12 people and injured dozens. Fontoura said New Jersey has the second toughest gun laws in the country behind California. He agrees with New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s call for other states to toughen their gun control laws. Fontoura said most of the legal guns law enforcement officials in New Jersey find are from somewhere else.

“It’s very difficult to get a gun permit here in the state of New Jersey. You can’t just go like in Colorado in three days and get a gun permit. You can’t do that. It’s going to take a minimum of six months before we vet, decide, chief signs off. It’s not an easy thing to do,” Fontoura said. “But unfortunately, like I said, you can go across the state line and come back with as many guns as you want to use.”