It’s not often a speaker receives a standing ovation before he even begins to talk.
But more than 300 business leaders, government officials and guests provided that as Joshua Lamancusa walked to the lectern in the Cathedral’s main dining hall Wednesday night.
Lamancusa, Lawrence County’s district attorney for the past two years, has gained recognition for his efforts in the area’s war on drugs and other crime.
He was the keynote speaker at the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce 109th annual dinner, which had the theme “Law & Order, Lawrence County.”
The centerpieces carried the theme, featuring black scales of justice atop stacks of law books.
Lamancusa unveiled his most recent move in the war on drugs — taking them into the schools.
The goal is to give teachers the opportunity to hold, see, feel and recognize real drugs, he said.
Lamancusa goes into the schools with armed guards and lets the teachers handle the different types of drugs — including crack and heroin in the ways they are typically packaged — so they can learn to recognize their look and feel.
“We want teachers to be able to identify narcotics and drug paraphernalia and to be able to see the signs of drug use in students,” he said.
In his hour-long presentation to teachers, he highlights what drugs are out there and their effects on people.
Lamancusa already has been to Neshannock and Mohawk and is setting up similar programs in other districts.
He said the county has 1,400 to 1,600 criminal cases, 95 percent of which have a connection to drugs.
“We handle some serious cases,” he said, noting eight death penalty cases are on the trial list this month.
Lamancusa cited the augmentation of the District Attorney’s Drug Task Force as his biggest achievement. It has 30 narcotics officers from throughout the county and incorporates the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the state Attorney General’s Office and the FBI into its investigative efforts. Each of those agencies has a seat on a panel that shares information and develops a targeting strategy, he said.
“We arrested one man who did $1 million worth of drug sales in the city of New Castle.”
“I believe we can use the drug dealers’ own assets against them,” he continued.
The task force has seized more than $260,000 through arrests of drug offenders. His office uses it to buy equipment and pay for officers’ overtime.
“The goal is to make it painful for the drug dealers to do their business,” he said.
Lamancusa also highlighted the county’s new drug court, which is in the process of screening applicants.
The program is designed to target drug addicted individuals who have committed low-level crimes and who show promise at rehabilitation.
Lawrence County President Judge Dominick Motto, who is overseeing the program, said after the dinner a review board is looking at five people who could become candidates for the program.
With several staff changes and consolidations of assistant district attorney positions, Lamancusa boasted his prosecutors have lost only one case since he took office in January 2010, and not one case has been dismissed because of a speedy trial violation.
His department employs a humane officer, he noted, “to protect the animals from people as well as the people from the animals.”
The position is funded with a $10,000 donation from the Animal Relief Fund and money from dog license fees and subpoenas.
As the humane officer serves subpoenas, he encounters a lot of unlicensed dogs, which increases the number of people cited for not having dog licenses for their pets, he said.
Lamancusa said his office also instituted a bad check program, which allows vendors to be paid and forces offenders to make restitution.