Fighting drug crime beyond county lines

Jon Tatting

Local authorities have launched a new and improved effort in the fight against drug and violent crimes.

The sheriffs of Chisago, Isanti and Pine counties voted to adopt the East Central Drug and Violent Offender Task Force during their initial public meeting on Dec. 1. The task force, consisting of investigators from each of the three member counties, focuses on apprehending violent drug offenders and keeping up with the area’s ever-evolving drug scene.

Previously, each county had one deputy working on narcotics investigations, so by forming this task force we’ve tripled our enforcement on these crimes and can be proactive on cases, said Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan.

Pictured, from left: Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole, Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan and Isanti County Sheriff Russ Monson, board members of the East Central Drug and Violent Offender Task Force.

Although the counties have experienced more informal cooperation in the past, the new task force will allow greater flexibility in pursuing offenders across county lines through shared manpower and resources with other agencies including the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Drug investigations typically don’t stop at the county border, said Duncan, noting Interstate 35 is a hot spot or major pipeline for drug trafficking. With a task force in place, investigators from separate counties can work together in locating suspects involved in a drug enterprise.

In other words, he stressed, “We’re able to centralize our fight against drugs and put more resources into it.”

Law enforcement also believes a drug task force will lead to larger scale arrests — that is, a step or two above the common drug user.

“We’re not just looking at the low end, but that next level, the main suppliers (of narcotics). It’s like the tail versus the head of the snake,” explained Duncan.

“Now we can make a bigger difference (and) get the drug dealers and manufacturers brought to justice, finally,” added Isanti County Sheriff Russ Monson. “This (task force effort) has been a long time coming.”

According to Monson, drug-related arrests in Isanti County have increased from 64 in 2009 to 146 in 2010 to 183 and counting this year. And while authorities are not seeing meth labs like they used to, the drug is still around because of the “Mexican pipeline” and gangs delivering it by way of road travel, he explained.

Meanwhile, marijuana appears more popular and potent than ever, and hallucinogens are here, too. That, and burglaries and thefts of especially copper are also occurring due to people needing money for their drug habits, continued Monson.


How it’s governed

A formal organization, the East Central Drug and Violent Offender Task Force will be governed by a joint powers agreement that was ratified by each of the three counties’ board of commissioners.

The task force’s board of directors consists of Sheriff Duncan as chairman; Isanti County Sheriff Monson, vice chairman; and Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole, secretary/treasurer. Other agencies including local police departments may participate as well.

Handling the legal end is the Isanti County Attorney’s Office, and the Pine County Auditor’s Office is serving as the fiscal agent.

The drug and violent offender task force officially begins in January 2012, thanks in large part to a $100,000 grant awarded by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Over time, contributions including drug forfeiture funds from each county are expected to help keep the effort self-sufficient.