Crow Wing County officials say they will deal with the county's drug problem with community outreach, increased proactive enforcement measures, collaboration with emergency medical services and more.
Sheriff Scott Goddard and Lt. Andy Galles gave a presentation about methamphetamine and other drugs at the Tuesday, March 19, county board committee of the whole meeting.
"There's obviously a market for it (meth). There's obviously a lot of people using it," Goddard told the county commissioners.
Meth seized in the state last year set a record high, according to Galles. The Minnesota Violent Crime Enforcement Teams seized 87 pounds in 2008 compared to the 625 pounds in 2017.
"This is seizures reported by the formalized drug task forces that are out there through the state, but this is not an all-encompassing law enforcement number, so you can imagine how much higher that number would probably go if you start to consider the smaller entities," Galles said.
Last year, more than 2,000 grams of meth were seized in the county compared to 17 grams of cocaine and no heroin. A pound of meth equals about 450 grams. A heavy drug user could possibly use between 1.5 and 2 grams a day, according to sheriff's office officials.
"Just for visual purposes, commissioners, if you think when you're in a coffee shop, grabbing your sugar packets ... 1 gram is about the contents of that packet," Galles said. "There's 28 of those in 1 ounce, and you times that by 16 ounces in a pound, etcetera, to get to that number."
Statistics on meth
Eighty drug-related search warrants were executed last year countywide, and more than 200 cases were worked by the sheriff's office, resulting in almost $54,000 cash seized by the county.
An undercover investigator at Tuesday's meeting said he bought a pound of meth in 2008 "directly from the Mexicans" for $20,000 but now could buy that amount for about $7,200. Meanwhile, his St. Cloud counterparts could buy that amount "directly from the cartels" for about $3,400.
"So what's the return on that?" Commissioner Steve Barrows asked.
The reply was local meth dealers could make roughly $100 a gram by selling the controlled substance-or "a lot of money"-and the lower-level drug users have become mid-level drug dealers because they can now afford it, according to the undercover operative.
"Just like anything else, if you buy in quantity-and the more that's coming in-the cheaper it gets, and that's historically what's happened is the amounts are going through the roof, but the price per pound is going dramatically down," Goddard said.
Supply and demand, lack of proactive measures, antiquated programs, opioids and more were mentioned as contributors to the county's drug problem at the meeting with commissioners.
"I would argue that heroin is nipping at the heels-and opioids are nipping at the heels-of the drug problem in this area," Galles said. "I would argue that it's just that we have not had the time or resources available to focus as heavily on the opioid problem as it really deserves."
The five-year county trends for the number of arrested or charged for drug-related offenses, the amount of grams of meth seized, the number of search warrants executed and the number of cases worked were all on the rise since 2014.
"Again, this is representative of how significant the problem is, and if that data continues, which we have no reason to believe that it won't, where does that leave us in two, three, five years from now if we don't change our methodology a little bit?" Galles rhetorically asked.
The sheriff's office provides law enforcement service to almost 62,500 full-time residents. But during peak tourist season, the population triples to an estimated 187,500 people. The county is almost 1,000 square miles, with 45 miles from north to south and 27 miles from west to east, and includes 92,000 acres of water.
"Why would I even care if somebody's doing these drugs? How is it affecting me?" Commissioner Paul Koering asked Galles.
Galles said, "Statistically speaking, the most current data that I could find is north of 80 percent of people in our prison and jail populations are there because of drugs and/or alcohol. ... They're not gainfully employed-most of them-so they need the money to buy the drugs. ... In this county, because of the geographical area that we're located in, we have an ongoing burglary problem. We have a lot of snowbirds and such that leave their cabins."
He continued: "If you're using a gram (of meth) a day, at $100 a gram ... that's about $700 a week, and that doesn't even include eating or anything else, so where does that money come from? Stealing-we have this human trafficking issue that's a nationwide problem-we've got thefts, we've got simple assaults all the way up to sexual assaults that are happening because of this.
"Most crime is related to drugs. To answer your question, 'How does that affect you?' We all in this room pay health insurance. We all in this room pay motor vehicle insurance. We all pay homeowners insurance. That is how it all affects us because when your house is burglarized ... that money comes from somewhere, and it comes through my premiums and what we pay out. The same with skyrocketing health insurance costs."
Lakes Area Drug Investigative Division
The Lakes Area Drug Investigative Division was created in 2001. The multi-jurisdictional task force involves all law enforcement agencies in the county, with the major emphasis on the "investigation and enforcement of narcotics" in the county.
There are 10 local police departments within the county: Brainerd, Baxter, Breezy Point, Crosby-Ironton, Crosslake, Cuyuna, Deerwood, Emily, Nisswa and Pequot Lakes.
The locations of the multi-jurisdictional task force's investigations were about 75 percent in the Baxter-Brainerd area in 2016, with almost a quarter of the investigations in the outlying areas of the county.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of deaths due to overdose has been on the rise since 2002, from more than 20,000 to more than 50,000 in 2015.
"The data is we need to reach people at a younger age because once they reach adulthood, it's too late. We need to get into the elementaries and the junior highs at the latest and really come up with a better way to tackle this," Galles said. "And we need to spend more time out in the rural parts of this county because-don't fool yourself-there's a significant drug distribution problem in the county. If I am trying to run a covert operation, I don't set up on 'Main Street.' ... I set up where surveillance is hard."
External partnerships the county has formed, or will form, to tackle the drug problem include community groups, ambulance services, emergency departments and education.
"There's only so many hours to a clock, and the drug business is a 24/7 operation. Some of these investigations get strung out weeks, sometimes months, sometimes even longer depending upon the complexity," Galles said.
The sheriff's office hopes in the future to add two new drug investigators, incorporate a social worker into the sheriff's office, be proactive in community engagement and cross-train among various disciplines.
"The drug agents are just triaging. There are more cases and more people than we simply ever will have time to deal," Goddard said. "When we have such a prevalent problem over and over with the meth-it seems like it has a more destructive core to it-that's where we put our resources and our time."
Reporting drug activity
Anyone wishing to report drug activity or drug information can contact the Lakes Area Drug Investigative Division any time of day by visiting www.crowwing.us/1422/Submit-a-Tip, calling 218-829-4749 or sending a text message by texting keyword TIPCW and the message to 847411 (TIP411).