Suffolk County police are using laser technology as a quick way to identify illegal drugs in the field, a strategy that department officials say keeps officers safer and saves time and money.
Narcotics officers are now using a device called TruNarc, a computerized handheld device designed to analyze a questionable substance believed to be narcotics in roughly a minute, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said on Wednesday.
Sini said the device had been used successfully for about a month by two officers in the narcotics bureau.
“Officers don’t have to open up bags, take out a sample of a substance and test it,” Sini said. “It’s very accurate, it’s very efficient.”
The equipment, which costs about $20,000, was purchased through a grant from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice, Sini said. The department purchased two devices as part of a pilot program and will buy more if successful, Sini said.
The device shoots a laser, which can penetrate glass and plastic, at the questionable substance for identification, Sini said. It is currently used in 38 states and in 35 countries, according to officials with Thermo Fisher Scientific, the developer of the device.
More than a dozen law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts use the device now, as well as some federal agencies, company officials said. It was introduced to the market in 2012, a spokeswoman said.
The battery-operated machine can identify drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and MDMA, also known as ecstasy. The device has also been expanded to catch variants of fentanyl, a powerful opiate available for use in medical treatment.
“We’ve seen reports that officers have become ill because when they do the field test, they open up the bags like they have to, the powder will get into the air and they’ll inhale it,” Sini said. “With a drug like fentanyl, this could make an officer very sick, very quickly.”
The department also announced an increase in the number of narcotic search warrants that have been executed in the first month of the year, Sini said.
For January, the department made 22 narcotic search warrants, which is up from eight during the same period last year, Sini said.
From those search warrants made this year, officers have made 39 arrests, recovered five handguns and eight shotguns or rifles, Sini said.
Over 150 grams of heroin were seized, along with over 100 grams of fentanyl, over 35 grams of crack cocaine, over 350 grams of powder cocaine and over four kilograms of marijuana. Pills and cash were also seized, Sini said. The street value of the drugs seized is over a half-million dollars, Sini said.
The department executed a search warrant Wednesday morning in Medford, where 4.5 ounces of cocaine was recovered, Sini said.
“We’re going to keep the pressure on,” said Sini.