|February 16, 2017
Local Law Enforcement: Drug abuse a growing problem
By Lailani Upham
CSKT Police Chief Craige Couture and Polson Police Chief Wade Nash team up on information of drug use crime stats to the Lake County Republican Women’s group last Monday night at the Polson Rural Fire Station. (Lailani Upham photo)
POLSON — For a law enforcement officer, there’s no such thing as a routine traffic stop. But try telling that to a driver who’s been pulled over for speeding or a broken taillight. Routine traffic stops are one of the tools used by law enforcement to uncover more serious crimes.
“That’s the way we get the drug dealers,” said Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Police Chief Craige Couture. “There is thousands of dollars going up and down Highway 93.”
Methamphetamine and heroin use is on the rise nationally and locally in the Mission Valley, Couture, Polson Police Chief Wade Nash and Lake County Sheriff Don Bell told attendees at the Lake County Republican Women’s Club meeting last week.
Sjaan Vincent, LCRW president said recent discussions about Lake County’s interest in withdrawing from Public Law 280, which revealed reports of spiking drug related crimes, inspired the public presentation.
Polson Police Chief Nash said the local Drug Task Force in 2016 seized drugs with a street value of $155,661.59. There were 54 search warrants executed; 54 weapons seized; and 137 pending felony drug cases in District Court in Lake County.
An under cover narcotics officer told the group an estimated 15 pounds of methamphetamine is being used each week in Lake County. A pound of meth can get 448 people high at a cost of $44,000 a pound. Dealers buy a pound of meth in Spokane for $9,000, Nash said.
“Do the math,” he said. “That’s a lot of money being circulated.”
Dealers can make up to $10,000 a day, Couture said.
Demand is at full throttle.
“If we take out one (drug dealer), another moves in,” Nash said.
Law Enforcement officials told the attendees that many of the dealers are coming from out of state, mainly Washington and California.
Dealers come to the area and recruit addicts, Nash said. Give the drugs a try and bam - they are hooked, he said.
Total cash seized from drug arrests in 2016 was $4,477.90.
Drugs that are seized are usually destroyed, but the cash and property seized can sometimes be used by the police departments that seized it.
Despite drug busts and seizures there is always more coming down the pike.
“It’s easier for young people to get drugs on the street than alcohol,” Couture said.
The top drug choices, based on Polson Police Department statistics, were: methamphetamine, prescription pills, heroin and cocaine. A single 2016 cocaine seizure put the expensive drug on the list.
“Normally (cocaine is) not encountered as much as prescription drugs and heroin,” he said.
Nash said of the 2,378 traffic stops within the city limits officers wrote 1,365 traffic warnings and 825 criminal citations in 2016. The alleged offenders were cited into three court systems: city, tribal and justice courts.
Polson City Court saw an increase in cases, Nash said.
“In 2015 the court handled 437 cases and in 2016 it saw 631 cases submitted in City Court. Almost a 200 percent case increase in one year.”
Also in 2016, there were 216 traffic accidents officers responded to and investigated with the top three traffic offenses being driving while suspended; operating without liability insurance; and driving under the influence.
The top crimes logged in 2016 for Polson were: drug offenses; theft; and assaults.
With drug offenses on the rise, people in the community are seeing more theft from homes to cars to businesses.
“Write down serials numbers on your personal items,” Couture said. “It might not work but there is always a chance you can get the stuff back.”
Casinos are another common ground where drug deals are happening, along with human trafficking connected to drug abuse and dealings, Couture said.
“Twenty years ago we didn’t have these conversations,” Couture said. “What is it going to be like in the next 10 to 15 years?”
The problem is not the addicts. Their path to drug abuse starts in their childhood said Couture. He said helping one child at a time makes a difference.
The jails are always full and drug offenders are receiving deferred sentences and repeating offenses — they’re being let go in a sense and not being held accountable.
Nash, Couture and Bell agreed more funding is needed to adequately address lack of jail space, drug addiction rehabilitation and tougher sentences.
“Make some noise to your representatives to pay attention to us,” Nash encouraged. “Write letters to agencies and departments and let them know you’re not going to take it any more.”
The law enforcement officials told the group it was not a Reservation problem — it’s a community problem.
The drug-dealing statistics in the valley came as a surprise to the crowd and gave them an eagerness to do more with other groups in the community, Vincent said.
“We would like to team up with other citizens to make a difference,” she said.