HOPEWELL — On the surface, a large police agency making 11 drug arrests in one month may seem somewhat ordinary as the nation continues to deal with an opioid epidemic.

Ontario County Sheriff Kevin Henderson, however, said those numbers are still significant.

“We made 11 drug arrests last month and some people may say ‘big deal,’ but some of these are serious charges,” Henderson said. “Some are class B felonies punishable by 20 years to life in prison if the dealer is persistent, and some of them are.”

Henderson said the sheriff’s office Special Investigation Unit, also referred to as the narcotics unit, made several arrests for third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance (class B felonies) in February. The unit includes one criminal investigator and four deputies.

Henderson’s predecessor, longtime county Sheriff Phil Povero, started the unit. Henderson, elected last November, made cracking down on drugs a major part of his campaign.

“The unit’s focus is on drug sales and the exchange of drugs between purchaser and dealer,” he said. “Our focus is on solid investigations, making sure we do the paperwork correctly and meeting the elements of the charges we are seeking. When we make an arrest, we work with the district attorney’s office and we are good with trial testimony.”

Henderson said the narco unit works with confidential informants. The unit also is part of a drug task force that includes Geneva and Canandaigua police, and Henderson is in touch regularly with Geneva Chief Mike Passalacqua and Canandaigua Chief Stephen Hedworth.

“Almost on a daily basis, I talk with my drug unit, and they let me know what is going on with cases they are working. I am proud of what they are doing,” Henderson said. “I have been part of some cases, too. I don’t mind throwing my handcuffs on these guys.”

Henderson said the unit routinely makes arrests for people selling cocaine, heroin and fentanyl, as well as marijuana. While some of the suspects are county residents, others are from Rochester.

“My focus is making sure my staff has the ability and the tools necessary to get these people who are coming into our county to sell drugs,” he said. “These drugs are killing people who are addicted.”

Henderson spoke last week about the dangers of fentanyl to emergency responders during a meeting of the Finger Lakes Regional EMS (Emergency Medical Services) Council. Earlier this month, a police officer in Iowa was given Narcan after he was exposed to suspected fentanyl after an arrest and became lethargic and unresponsive in his patrol car.

“You have to very careful at drug scenes and protect your emergency responders,” he said. “We don’t even field test suspected heroin because it may have fentanyl and an officer might come into contact with it.”

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