Ithaca, N.Y. — Most news coverage tends to focus on what happens before drugs are seized: where they came from; how they were distributed; the police investigation that led to an arrest and the seizure; and so on.


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But here’s another question: What about the other end of the process? What happens to the drugs after they’re seized by police?

I asked that question to Inv. Kevin McKenna of the Ithaca Police Department during Wednesday’s session of the Citizens’ Police Academy. (McKenna has extensive experience in narcotics investigations with IPD.)

The answer: Some years ago, the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office acquired an incinerator for the drugs. Now, when there’s a major drug bust, local law enforcement take the incinerator from the sheriff’s office to a remote area either by the sheriff’s office or closer to IPD, according to McKenna.

Then they burn the drugs — at 1,500 degrees, McKenna says, so they’re “instantly vaporized.”

McKenna drew laughs as he jokingly asked the police academy students to visualize a group of officers standing around burning the drugs.

But he said that image also spoke to the important safety component of having an incinerator that’s able to immediately dispose of the drugs:

“You need a blast furnace that can disintegrate and make it vaporize instantly,” he said.

CBS News reported a little more on how police in general destroy seized drugs via incineration in 2014:

Police have used crematories, foundries, hospital incinerators or specialized businesses — and even torched drugs in 55-gallon drums.

Troopers in Ohio used to destroy thousands of pounds of seized drugs — for free — at factories where they could be vaporized in molten steel. But the companies worried about it potentially affecting the quality of their product and producing emissions: the kind that create environmental concerns and the kind that could skew employee drug tests, said Capt. David Dicken, a director at the crime lab.

“If we’re throwing 940 pounds of marijuana into the vat, you know, it flares up,” he said. 

Read previous Ithaca Voice coverage of the Citizens’ Police Academy

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.