Law enforcement increasing countywide coordination in fighting drugs task force

Sean C. Morgan

Linn County has been designated a High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, and local law enforcement agencies will increase coordination in their fight against drugs and the redevelopment of a drug-enforcement task force.

Linn County had been an oddball, said Sweet Home Police Chief Jeff Lynn. “Linn County was standing alone without that designation.”

Other counties through which Interstate 5 runs have already been designated High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the purpose of the program is to reduce drug trafficking and production in the United States by facilitating cooperation and sharing intelligence among federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to share information and implement coordinated enforcement activities.

The United States has 28 HIDTAs, including 17.2 percent of all counties in the United States in 42 states. They include more than 60 percent of the U.S. population.

Each HIDTA assesses the drug trafficking threat in its defined area annually, develops plans and strategies and then prepares a report to describe its performance in the previous year.

It fosters relationships among local, state and federal agencies, he said.

“It encompasses all of us working in the area. Federal resources can be allocated to our county.”

This year, the federal government is providing $55,000 to Linn County, Lynn said. “We’re looking at setting up, basically, a task force to promote a cohesive strategy with agencies to stop higher-level dealers and organizations. Discussions are under way right now. I think there’s been some positive headway.”

Funding will be directed toward the task force, Lynn believes. Before Linn County agencies can even access it, they must set up the multi-agency task force.

The task force will include Sweet Home, Lebanon and Albany police departments; Linn County Sheriff’s Office; Oregon State Police; the Linn County District Attorney’s Office; and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Lynn said.

Linn County has not had an anti-drug task force for about a decade, since the Valley Interagency Narcotics Team disbanded. VALIANT included Linn and Benton county agencies.

“There was a number of problems with that,” Lynn said, and a new task force will avoid features that helped lead to the end of VALIANT.

VALIANT was designed as a stand-alone organization, Lynn said, and it wasn’t supported the way it should have been. With no resources dedicated to evidence, the detectives handled the evidence directly.

Mishandled evidence led agencies to shut down the program in 2005. An investigation showed that evidence was missing and records had been destroyed. No officers were indicted in connection to the investigation.

Lynn was assigned to VALIANT at the time.

“The actual investigation and enforcement was extremely effective,” Lynn said. “I think the results can be somewhat the same, but the task force will look different from VALIANT.”

VALIANT will be housed with a specific agency, he said. Linn County law enforcement officials also are looking at how other counties have set up their task forces, what’s been successful, to help design their task force.

The task force should be running in the beginning to middle of 2017, Lynn said. He will have to figure out Sweet Home’s contribution to the program which, he said, will require him to balance different interests.

The task force is targeted toward larger organizations and dealers, he said. The cast majority of crimes don’t rise to that level, and agencies will continue to deal with street level crimes and investigations, reports of high traffic into a specific house, for example.

Larger agencies have street crimes units that can continue to handle those, he said. In an ideal world, he would want to dedicate an officer at least half-time to the task force, but he has to keep local level street crime in mind.

Right now, he doesn’t have the personnel to assign to it, he said. Depending on how the task force develops, he’ll look at proposing funds in the 2017-18 city budget.

“We have to continue doing what we do yet find a way to increase our involvement,” Lynn said.