Local law enforcement takes steps to combat drug problem
“One thing that I’ve always said is it doesn’t matter if you’re black, green, yellow, purple or blue. It affects everybody,” said Hamilton County Sheriff Doug Timmons.
Timmons, elected in 2016, is certified as a Drug Recognition Expert, an EMT and CPR instructor.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily an increase or just identified more,” said Webster City Police Chief Shiloh Mork. “I don’t know if all of the sudden we just started having a lot of drug issues or it just rose to the surface and people aren’t hiding it as much.”
He explained that the most common illegal substances found within the city are meth and marijuana. Narcotics cases even outweigh alcohol-related offenses.
“At the risk of making the town sound bad, daily we will encounter somebody,” said Mork. “It doesn’t mean it’s like on TV where you’ve got the tweakers or the guys with the munchies. But it’s not uncommon within a 12-hour shift to encounter someone who is under the influence of something.”
New drug trends
Another up and coming drug trend is the butane honey oil labs. Individuals extract the THC from marijuana and then smoke it like a vape or put it in candies or popcorn and eat it. The potency is about 90 percent when compared to just smoking a marijuana joint.
“The labs are highly flammable,” Timmons said. “We had one of the largest ones in Iowa in June of this year down in Stratford.”
This lab was discovered after the butane caused a house fire, he said. These labs grind up the marijuana and put it in an extractor tube and then use butane to get the THC out.
“What makes it highly flammable is during the cook-down process, the butane will still be attached to the product. It’s a huge hazard,” Timmons said. “It poses another risk for first responders. Part of it is butane, which is highly explosive.”
The State Narcotics team assisted with the investigation into that incident. As this was local law enforcement’s first encounter with this lab, the team was able to provide education to the officers and first responders to prepare them for future incidents.
The penalty for each offender is based on drug quantity and other varying factors.
“It’s anywhere from a misdemeanor all the way up to a felony depending on different circumstances,” said Mork.
“We have a zero tolerance policy,” said Timmons.
“We probably encounter possession more frequently than distribution, but there are current distribution cases,” said Mork. As a drug charge, “distribution” usually means that a person is accused of selling, delivering, or providing controlled substances illegally. Illegal possession of a controlled substance occurs whenever a person owns or otherwise possesses a drug or other controlled substance, without justification or permission. These charges usually apply when a person is found carrying marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, or other illicit drugs.
According to authorities, it’s not uncommon to make a traffic stop and find something on the person or in the car.
“Each circumstance is going to be a little different,” Timmons said. “Sometimes when you stop them your intuition and your experience, as soon as you walk up to the car or as soon as you start talking to them it’s like ‘he’s a user or you have knowledge being in a smaller community he’s a user, or you smell it.”
It takes dedicated effort to see a conviction go through. Officers spend many hours making a case to ensure the courts have all of the necessary information.
“It’s countless hours of gaining intelligence,” Timmons said. “It’s important to build a solid case so that you can get a conviction.”
There are a lot of multiple time offenders, according to Timmons.
“It’s frustrating. You arrest them and say you get them with simple possession. Next time you get a little bit more and it goes through the court system and doesn’t come out the outcome you thought it should have,” said Timmons.
If an individual is arrested under the suspicion of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, officers must determine if the suspect is in need of medical attention.
“We try make it safe for everyone involved. Even though they are the bad guy, we will protect them and do what we have to do to keep them safe,” Timmons said.
Keeping officers and the community safe
Ensuring the safety of both the officer and suspect are top priority according to Mork and Timmons.
“We always make sure if it’s someone who needs medical attention — because sometimes they have a quantity in their system or their system reacts differently to it – we want to make sure they are medically OK,” Mork said.
During Iowa Law Enforcement Academy training, officers and deputies learn how to tell when someone is under the influence and how to handle scenarios where drugs are involved.
The training never stops for members of law enforcement. As new drugs and cooking methods emerge, local and national agencies work to educate officers and the public.
“We have to keep our training up to be aware of these things and what we have to use caution with,” said Timmons.
“There are also classes around the area that other departments or the state will sponsor,” said Mork. “If something new pops up the state is pretty good about putting on a class and informing us all about it because there are a lot of things coming out that are very dangerous that we need to know how to handle and how to respond to instances.”
It is important for officers and deputies serving in the line of duty to be informed about the possible scenarios they could run into on the job. As different drugs affect the body in abnormal ways, this could lead to a negative altercation.
“We always have to be on a heightened alert around people under the influence because we don’t know,” said Mork. “Sometimes their actions are very sporadic depending on what substance they’re on, so our guard has to be up a little higher.”
Training, education and experience benefit all parties involved. When officers are able to know what substance is affecting a suspect they are able to protect the welfare of both the subject and themselves.
“Through blood pressure, pulses, body actions and confessions of the people, you can come up with a determination of what drug they are under the influence of,” said Timmons.
Mork explained that in many cases, someone who is on meth is wound tighter or more aggressive. Marijuana has a “mellowing effect” on the average user.
“Every situation is different. There’s no set manual to tell you how to deal with them,” Mork said. “A lot of it is experience you gain on the street talking to people and by experiencing how they are acting and responding to different things.”
For the normal day-to-day possession charges, the State Division of Narcotics is not called in. This agency is only called in when the departments need the man power.
“When we get a case or get information we try to be proactive and investigate it,” Timmons said. “If we feel like we don’t have the time or we need more resources, we can get ahold of state narcotics agents and they’ll help us with it.”
Taking proactive steps
Law enforcement agencies have a series of proactive steps to help diminish the drug problem in Hamilton County and Webster City. They are using education, specialized programs and assistance from state agencies and the public to make the community safer for everyone.
“We are in the schools a lot to try and curb the appeal of drug use and trying drugs,” said Mork.
Drug Take-Back containers are located at the police department and sheriff’s office. Residents can drop off expired, unused prescription medications at both locations. The purpose of these containers is to prevent improper use of prescription medications and theft of medication from homes.
Education and community action
“We try to educate as much as we can,” Mork said. “We’ll talk to different service organizations. Anytime anyone has questions, we encourage them to contact us.”
“The biggest thing is don’t turn a blind eye to it,” Mork said. “If you think there is something going on, confront it. If you see something suspicious or you believe there is criminal activity going on, call us. You can stay anonymous.”
“We need the public’s help. They’re the eyes and ears that help us make our job easier,” said Timmons. “We want them off the streets just as badly as the public does.”