Carr, Birkholz see value in drug task force job
With the Wadena County Drug Task Force position set to expire this year, Wadena Sheriff Michael D. Carr and Staples Police Chief Melissa Birkholz are convinced that the position more than pays for itself.
The position, part of the West Central Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, was originally implemented thanks to a grant from National Joint Powers Alliance in 2015. Even though it was a start-up grant to get the position going, NJPA agreed to pay for a second year. Carr said he will not be able to apply for a third year, so he is planning to ask the Wadena County Board of Commissioners to fund the position and he has statistics that show how much the position means to the county.
Since February, 2015, there have been 58 felony arrests, 20 guns seized and 2,710 grams of methamphetamines seized (approximately six pounds), with a street value of $275,000.
In addition, burglaries in Wadena County are down 13 percent, theft is down five percent, domestic incidents down 11 percent and assaults down 11 percent. Carr said most of those statistics are a result of the drug task force position.
Since many drug users are in poverty, they resort to burglaries and theft to pay for their addiction. In addition, it costs the county more for insurance, investigations, rehabilitation, courts, jails and social services.
Carr pointed to the $275,000 value of methseized. “Where do you think they are getting the money to pay for those drugs?” asked Carr. “They are victimizing other people to pay for their drugs.” He said people who care about property and public safety should get behind the drive to make the position a part of the county budget.
There are some cost increases. Narcotic investigations are up by 52 cases and child welfare is up 25 percent in the county. Carr said the costs up front will save much more than that down the road. While drug cases are up 200 percent at the Wadena County District Court, domestic assault cases are down 46 percent and assault cases are down 26 percent.
Both Birkholtz and Carr said almost every case they investigate has something to do with drugs. “You name it, it is affected by drugs,” said Carr. “You eliminate drugs, all that goes away.”
Birkholz said the Staples area has gone from very few drug cases to several major busts, almost all of them due to the drug task force position. She said the word is getting out that Staples and Wadena County is no longer the place to go for drugs. “We used to hear talk about people coming to Staples and Wadena because there was no agent there,” said Birkholz, “people involved with drugs don’t want to come into a community with a drug task force.”
The success of the task force position is due to many hours of work and a dedicated team. Carr said deputies on patrol don’t have time to investigate drugs, as it takes a minimum of 40 hours to make just one arrest. The position also has the unique ability to coordinate with other agencies and call in other task force agents when needed.
Carr said Wadena County also is lucky to have a county attorney who is willing to prosecute drug cases.
Right now methamphetamines are the most prominent drug in Wadena County but both Carr and Birkholz belive heroin is starting to come in from nearby communities. While methamphetamines are devastating to users and their families, heroin is a potential killer. Additives in heroin are causing multiple deaths around the country and it is now in several areas in Minnesota.
“If we lost just one kid to the heroin epidemic, ask what is the value of that one kid?” said Birkholz.
“It is the worst thing that could ever come around,” said Carr.
Birkholz supports the drug task force officer becoming a permanent part of the county budget because of the direction things are going on drug enforcement. “When you get someone like the officer in the position now, you don’t get rid of it,” she said.
Carr agrees: “The position pays for itself 100 times over,” he said.
Carr said the Wadena County Board will be setting their budget soon and he would like them to know where the public stands on the drug task force position. He said even Todd County residents in Staples who are affected by the position could have a voice in the matter.
Wadena County Commissioners are:
Dist. 1 - Sheldon Monson, 218-640-3278; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dist. 2 - Jim Hofer, 218-894-1152; Jim.email@example.com.
Dist. 3 - Bill Stearns, 218-631-2351; Bill.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dist. 4 - Rodney Bounds, 218-445-5115; Rodney.email@example.com.
Dist. 5 - David Hillukka, 218-564-5400; David.firstname.lastname@example.org.