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Mid-Iowa Drug Task Force cracking down on meth suppliers

December 2, 2012
By DAVID ALEXANDER - Staff Writer ( , Times-Republican

Although the average amount of drug arrests in the county has been level for the last five years, the Mid-Iowa Drug Task Force is beginning to target meth kingpins more aggressively.

Det. Joel Phillips, with the task force, said the sheriff's office averages roughly 56 drug arrests per year while the Marshalltown Police Department averages about 400. However, while the number is staying about the same, the amount of serious drug-related crimes, mainly felonies associated with trafficking, are increasing.

That's due in large part to the proliferation of methamphetamine, he said.

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Several raids in the past few months have put alleged meth dealers behind bars. Many of those investigations are the culmination of several months or even years of investigation.

Marshall County Sheriff Ted Kamatchus said substance abuse, of which meth use is increasingly common, accounts for many of the problems that lead to crime.

"A person just has to go into our jail and see who is housed there," he said. "It's sad when you see some of these people are more concerned about their addiction than their children."

That addiction, Kamatchus said, leads people to commit all kinds of violent crime in pursuit of money. Stepping up efforts to go after suppliers will help alleviate the burden on the jail and law enforcement, he said.

He called the effort to target suppliers "moving up the ladder."

Many people have the perception that local meth labs pose a major threat, Kamatchus said. However, a vast majority of the meth circulating in the county is shipping from other areas where suppliers produce the drug in mass quantity.

Phillips said Marshalltown's central location and strong blue-collar workforce make it an ideal hotbed for meth activity, but wanted to quash any notion that meth use stays compartmentalized.

"It's a small city with a larger city drug problem," he said. "It affects everybody."

Over the last five years or so, the purity of the meth in the county has seen a spike. Where police once saw meth with a typical purity around 60 to 70 percent, they now regularly encounter meth 90 or even 100 percent pure.

Outmaneuvering drug cartel members can prove difficult because there is always someone there to take the place of a supplier who gets arrested, Phillips said.

"We will never eliminate drug trafficking," he said. "We are always trying to think outside the box."

A major contributor to increased information is public intolerance, he said. The number of people who contact police with tips on potential drug traffickers is on the rise, which is encouraging.

Budget constraints have also led to increased partnerships with surrounding law enforcement agencies, which has in turn increased communication on the comings and goings of drug traffickers, Phillips said.

However, those same budget cutbacks also filter into treatment programs, which in turn means fewer people are getting help with their addiction and continue to commit crime, Kamatchus said. Those cutbacks also shift the financial burden to local tax payers.

Where counties like Marshall County once saw $400,000 or even $500,000 of federal money to fund the War on Drugs, they now see numbers around $250,000, Kamatchus said.

Being hard on meth locally doesn't eliminate the problem, he said. It simply shifts it to another region as traffickers move to other areas where penalties or enforcement isn't as strong. More federal funding and unified standards would help local law enforcement combat the problem.

"What happens in Washington does impact us here in Marshalltown Iowa," Kamatchus said.



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