Monday, August 22, 2011

As U.S. meth busts drop, Indiana ramps up: State looks for ways to avoid pulling back as funding dries up

Journal and Courier :: Sophia Voravong :: August 22, 2011

With 741 methamphetamine labs found and destroyed through the first half of 2011 -- a 33 percent increase since 2008 for the same time frame, according to numbers provided by Indiana State Police -- Indiana could break its own record by year's end.

The data itself might be troubling. But Indiana actually is in a better position than other states, such as Michigan and Tennessee, where enforcement efforts have stalled because federal funding is no longer available to clean up the toxic waste that meth labs produce.

Indiana drastically cut costs by partnering with the Drug Enforcement Agency beginning in 2007 to set up temporary disposal sites. There are 10 "containers" throughout the state.

"For the standard lab that has a contractor come clean it up, it costs about $3,500," said 1st Sgt. Niki Crawford, commander of ISP's Methamphetamine Suppression Section. "Our labs average $550 because of the container program.

"... It's gone from costing us about $1 million a year. Last year was right around $1 million."

Before, troopers relied on a DEA contractor -- oftentimes from Wisconsin or Ohio -- to arrive and pack up the materials for disposal, Crawford said. The largest cost was due to travel time.

"We would have guys waiting on scene for eight hours. For us, the difficult part was having to pay overtime while guys were just sitting there waiting," she said.

Through the DEA's container program, specially trained troopers can package the materials themselves and take them to the disposal sites, and a contractor is called to empty the containers once they become full.

The DEA also has the state work with one contractor, who is based in Indianapolis, rather than someone from out of state.

Crawford said the DEA paid for the containers and the necessary training because -- while costing money on the front end -- using the container program actually ends up saving money.

"Pursuing methamphetamine is still a big priority for us," she said. "Unfortunately we keep getting more, and that cleanup costs more. It's a pretty tough situation."

In June, a meth lab was discovered at 1126 N. Eighth St., a few blocks from Johnson's home.

"I really didn't know what was going on at first. We saw the tape and just assumed someone was hurt or something like that," she said. "When it came out on the news I was surprised it was drugs."

Johnson said she was unaware of how much time and money is spent each time a lab is taken apart, but she hopes that doesn't deter police from tracking down meth makers.

"It's a problem, but it hasn't gotten out of control yet," she said. "If they quit, it probably will. I know it will."

Other states slowed meth enforcement this year after the federal government in February canceled a program that provided millions of dollars to help local agencies dispose of seized labs. Since then, an Associated Press analysis shows, the number of labs seized has plummeted by a third in some key meth-producing states and two-thirds in at least one, Alabama.

In Michigan, authorities still bust meth labs when they find them, but tougher missions, such as secretly sending officers into the meth underworld, have been scrapped.

"They're not actively out there looking for it," said Tony Saucedo, meth enforcement director for Michigan State Police. "And the big issue is money. We have taken 10 steps backward."

In Warren County, Tenn., about 70 miles southeast of Nashville, deputies had "always been very aggressive on meth," Sheriff Jackie Matheny said. By midsummer a year ago, they had busted some 70 meth labs. This year, that number tumbled to 24.

Both Crawford and Lafayette police Lt. Pat Flannelly, who heads Tippecanoe County's multiagency Drug Task Force, said the increase is largely due to the "one pot method" of cooking meth. Fewer ingredients are needed, and meth can be made more often.

Flannelly said members of the Drug Task Force continue to pursue meth makers aggressively. He noted that the one pot method carries a higher risk of explosion than a traditional lab.

"It's such a highly addictive drug and does so much damage," Flannelly said. "We want to do anything we can to keep the availability low, if not nonexistent."

Lafayette's Peggy Harris doesn't think police should ease up on their pursuit of meth producers, but she wished there was a way to dismantle labs more discretely.

In July, Lafayette police discovered an active meth lab at 304 S. Sixth St., which is near Harris' apartment.

Police were serving an arrest warrant for cocaine offenses when they discovered the lab.

Harris said the police tape and daylong dismantling process that followed drew stares from everyone who passed through her neighborhood.

"I know they have to do it, but I hate seeing it," she said. "It makes everyone think that this is a dangerous, drug-infested neighborhood, but that just isn't true."

Harris said she had been living in the area just south of downtown Lafayette for about five years, and that was the first time she had ever witnessed a public drug bust.

"It was scary to think they were doing that so close to my apartment," she said. "But I don't want people thinking that everyone who lives around here is like that. Those people don't represent us."

While Harris bemoans the public dismantling and clean-up process conducted after a meth lab is found, north-end resident Kianna Johnson said she thinks the more attention the busts draw, the better.

"That's a way cops can let other criminals know that they are taking that stuff seriously," she said. "If they see them taking people down, maybe they will stay out of that area next time."

"When you have to kind of kick it into neutral, it makes you sick to your stomach because we know it's out there," Matheny said.

The AP analysis involved building a database of lab seizures in the nation's top 10 meth-producing states based on 2010 figures. Combined with numbers from the first half of 2011, the statistics showed that seizures had dropped sharply in states that depended on federal money. Yet busts were skyrocketing in states that pay for their own cleanups.
Lab seizures were down 32 percent through May 31 in Tennessee, which led the nation in seizures in 2010. The numbers were similar or worse in other leading meth states: down 33 percent in Arkansas, 35 percent in Michigan and 62 percent in Alabama.

All those states relied heavily on funding from the federal Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS program. It offered local agencies $19.2 million in 2010. That money was not renewed and is unlikely to come back.

Crawford, the head of Indiana's meth enforcement program, said the loss of that funding affected the state through June 1. Indiana had to use its own money -- about $94,000 -- to pay for the state's contractor to empty disposal containers. That had to be done five times between February and June 1.

That amount still is lower than what other states faced, Crawford said.

The DEA was able to provide funding again by moving training money into meth cleanup costs, she said. For now, funding is guaranteed only through Sept. 30, but Crawford said she is confident that the DEA will come through for Indiana and other users of the container program.

Crawford said she knew of only a handful of states that use the container program. She noted that Indiana sought its own cost-saving initiatives during the four months that it lost federal funding.

"We changed how we packaged it and how it was stored, while still falling under EPA guidelines," Crawford said. "We want to be good stewards, so we continue to do the cost-saving measures."

Contributing: The Associated Press

No comments:

Post a Comment