Comments Off on Meth makes more records; small police agencies don’t have drug officers

As meth use continues to rise, the burden to bust and clean up labs falls on undercover drug task force officers.

ASH GROVE, Mo. — Missouri is once again on track to lead the nation in meth lab busts in 2012, and that’s without all the help we once had to combat the problem. Due to tight law enforcement budgets around the state there are fewer drug officers out looking for labs and the ones who are are busier than ever.

One of the reasons for the increase, according to experts, is mobile meth labs made using the “shake and bake” method. It’s easy and quick. COMET, our local drug task force, responds to two of them for every one of the larger labs, but the task force doesn’t have much help finding any kind of lab.

“I have lived here all my life really,” Briana Ennis said about the Ash Grove home that she shares with her brother.

Prolonged exposure to methampheetamine tends to make you numb.

“You get woke up at three in the morning hearing random things go on,” she said.

Ennis had all but forgotten about the neighbors until last month. That’s when she says they were finally busted for making meth in their house. Ennis says it had been going on for years.

“It’s such a secluded location, nobody ever really pays attention. We don’t get cops that drive up and down this road and, even when you do file a complaint, it’s more of a ‘when I get to it’ kind of thing I guess.”

The problem is there are fewer people to get to it.

“Actually the city at one time a little over six years ago had a dog, a drug dog and a narcotics officer,” said Ash Grove Police Chief Russ Essary.

That’s long gone. Now Ash Grove employs three and half full-time officers and, because of coming changes in the Greene County Sheriff’s Department coverage inside cities, Ash Grove has to stretch them to 24 hour-coverage beginning this weekend.

“To make a 24-hour schedule work, you really need at a minimum five officers,” said Essary, who makes up for the deficit by utilizing reserves.

So, when there are drug issues, particularly meth, Essary calls on COMET.

“The last calendar year we had a record number of labs for the task force since it was started,” undercover officer Karl Wagner said.

That was 1993 when it began. The undercover agents cover a seven-county area, with fewer resources too. They’re down an officer.

“This year we made cuts to our training and equipment budget,” said Wagner.

Both COMET and the city and county departments it works with wish there were more bodies in the field looking for labs. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s people like Ennis who find them first.

“You hear about meth labs exploding and things like that and it’s just too close for comfort,” she said.

In the first six months of 2012, there were 1,113 labs found, 54 in Greene County alone. Missouri is hundreds of labs ahead of any other state and Greene County is well ahead of every other county in Missouri except three in and around St. Louis.

By the end of the year, there’s a good chance at this rate we’ll surpass the nearly 2,100 labs busted in Missouri in 2011.



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