Sheriff James M. Gannon truly enjoys helping people. Gannon, who is the 77th Sheriff of Morris County, New Jersey, has always had roles where he could offer his services and guidance to people. He was elected in 2016, after a decorated, 33-year career in law enforcement and private sector security.
His passion for law enforcement came from his father, who was a New York City Police Detective. After college, Gannon started out as a Patrolman in his hometown of Boonton Township, followed by service as Deputy Chief of Investigations at the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office and the FBI’s elite Joint Terrorism Task Force. He then went to the private sector and worked as Global Head of Security Risk for Novartis Pharmaceuticals.
“In every position that I’ve had, I’ve been able to help people. I love helping the citizens of Morris County and the people traveling through. A lot of people live, work, worship and play here. And I think it’s an honor to assist them. I find it very interesting that over the last 34 years I’ve been involved in both private and public security and law enforcement matters. So this role with Morris County Sheriff is just a great feel and a great fit for me.”
His force of 338 full-time officers is responsible for protecting the citizens and visitors of the county, but also assists with the crime scene unit, the bomb squad, K-9 unit, the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team, the prosecutor’s office and more.
“We have something a little unique here in Morris County, and I sort of coined the phrase, ‘Morris County does it better.’ People are very invested in doing the right thing here. And I think that has to do with being in the shadow of New York City where we’re only 27 air miles from the towers in New York City.”
Sheriff Gannon and his team are currently working on several community outreach initiatives: the opioid crisis and securing IDs for those who don’t have one or who can’t afford one.
Regarding the opioid crisis, he says, “We’re trending, year-to-date, about 86 percent above last year on fatalities. We also know that our average user age has increased from 36 to 39, so the older population, right, is dying from opioids. So we can talk about it like everybody else, or we can do something.”
His two Under-Sheriffs, Alan Robinson and Mark Spitzer, have helped to develop a mobile access vehicle to the opioid at-risk population. A van with educational materials of different treatment providers, in addition to a licensed mental health clinician and a certified peer recovery specialist, a person who has “walked the addiction,” travels around and hands out free bottles of Narcan, which is the antidote for opioids.
“We’ve been out 190 operational hours, and we’ve made 1,200 contacts,” he says. “The contacts can be either the addicted who needs detox or rehab or who needs intensive outpatient. But it could also be family members and friends who have a connection to those addicted. We’re not looking to take people to jail. We’re looking to take them on the road to recovery.”
For those who are incarcerated, the Hope wing at the Morris County Correctional Facility offers opioid drug treatment, anger management classes and a faith-based curriculum to those who want it.
“Our mission is to keep them sober,” he says. “So when they leave the correctional facility, we offer to hand them off to someone so when they can stay in the program and stay sober. We help them with housing, we help them with employment and we help them with their education.”
After seeing a gap in Morris County where some people didn’t have identification – maybe because of a lack of funds to purchase an ID card, Sheriff Gannon developed a plan to provide ID cards for those individuals. It’s important, he says, “Because, in New Jersey and in the United States, a person without identification can’t even get their bloodwork done at the hospital. They can’t get into detox. And they can’t get into rehab. And I’m very proud of where we’re at, and I think we’re just making a difference right away.”
He deeply relies on partnerships with private businesses, such as the local hospitals and medical centers. “Anybody that thinks that you’re in the government and you’re in charge – and without the help of the private folks, you can’t do it. You can’t do it and you shouldn’t do it,” he says.
He is very gracious when speaking about his new role. “And at the end of the day, it goes into why I came back into this business. I was in the private sector with probably the best job that any retired police officer could ever have. And I loved it and I learned a lot, and they were very, very, very good to me. But at the end of the day it’s nice to be back in Morris County, 482 square miles of my stomping grounds.”
In his free time, Sheriff Gannon spends time with his daughter, son-in-law and grandson.
Annual Revenue: $17 million
Security Budget: Confidential
• Heroin and Opioid Addiction
• Criminal Justice Reform/Bail Reform