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Task force efforts cut crime, drugs

BEMIDJI — Seized: 425 grams of methamphetamine;1,433 dosage units of pharmaceuticals; 15 pounds of marijuana and 238 marijuana plants; 17.7 grams of heroin; 46 firearms, including handguns, assault rifles and stolen weapons; and $63,683 in cash.

You don’t always hear the immediate results of activities conducted by local law-enforcement taskforces, but their 2013 statistics are staggering.

“It really is a true team effort,” said Gary Peterson, an investigator who oversees two regional task forces.

The Headwaters Safe Trails Task Force is one of 14 safe trails task forces in the U.S. that have formed to unite federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to combat violent crime, drugs, gangs and gaming violations. There are 11 member agencies of the Headwaters task force.

The Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force, formed in 1988, has nine member agencies that united to address illegal drug activities in the region.

On Tuesday, Peterson updated the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners on the work conducted by the task forces in 2013, reporting 272 arrests, the execution of 109 search warrants, 35 public presentations and 184 calls to assist other agencies.

“The good work you do is underestimated,” said Joe Vene, Beltrami County commissioner.

“There is very little that would be of a drug-enforcement nature that would happen within 50 or 60 miles of here that we wouldn’t be involved in,” Peterson said, confirming task forces were involved in the methamphetamine investigation that led to last week’s arrest of three men in Cass County.

Cass County is not currently a member of the task forces — its sheriffs office has been involved in the past but is not now — but Peterson said agents will respond to Cass County, as it would other areas, if its expertise and assistance is needed.

Noting “the nature of the job is a little more covert than overt,” Peterson also addressed why the task forces do not routinely send out press releases to announce an arrest.

“If we get somebody who is toward the lower end of the food chain as far as drug dealing is concerned and we think there’s a possibility to work our way up and get a source, we don’t want to just get the bottom feeder all the time, the user who is an addict,” he said. “Ultimately that’s our goal, to figure out who the supplier is. That supplier is responsible for feeding the habits of many people in the community.”

Complicating those efforts from time to time, though, is the modern era and the proliferation of electronic communication.

“The computer age has made it so you aren’t 10 feet in the door of the jail now if you’ve been arrested before it’s out there on the Internet,” he said. “People know instantly. People know with phones and texting and instant messaging. They can see somebody stopped on the side of the road and in five minutes half the dope dealers in town know that somebody, whoever it is, has been pulled over. So it does kind of handcuff us a little bit.”

On a positive side, perhaps, the task forces itself now obtains more than half its information through electronics, Peterson said, stating dealers often take photos of their stashes and will arrange meet-ups by text message

“It used to be that we’d just kick in doors, now we kick in computer hard drives,” he said.

Technology has also expedited the process for investigating crimes, as agents can request search warrants by computer or smartphone.

“If you don’t advance technologically, you become a dinosaur,” said Peterson, who started his law-enforcement career along with Phil Hodapp, Beltrami County sheriff, more than 35 years ago.

A growing drug problem locally has been the rise of pill-dealing in the area.

“Unfortunately, the reservations have become a real target for pill dealers, the synthetic opiates, Leech Lake in particular,” Peterson said.

Cases have involved individuals from as far as Detroit and California who came independently of each other to sell pills.

Peterson said the Californian was sending out as much as $70,000-$75,000 worth of pills each month to the Bemidji area. A search warrant was executed in that case, resulting in the seizure of more than 500 opiate pills and $35,000 in cash.

“We don’t think of that volume, that type of drug-dealing going on here in Bemidji but it does,” he said.

One of the more successful programs in recent year was the implementation of the pharmaceutical turn-in program, through which area residents can voluntarily turn in the remaining prescribed pills that they no longer need.

Peterson said the program now has brought in and destroyed about 600 pounds’ worth of pills.

“Pills that now haven’t been sold, haven’t been used inappropriately, haven’t been flushed down the sink or toilet and gone into our water tables,” he said. “I’ve probably gotten more positive feedback on the pharmaceutical turn-in program than anything else we do. People have this stuff and don’t know what to do with it.”


Headwaters Safe Trails Task Force member agencies


Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms

Bureau of Criminal Apprehension

Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office

Bemidji Police Department

Bureau of Indian Affairs

Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office

Leech Lake Tribal Police

Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Office

White Earth Tribal Police

Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force member agencies

Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office

Bemidji Police Department

Bureau of Indian Affairs

Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office

Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office

Leech Lake Tribal Police

Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Office

Park Rapids Police Department

White Earth Tribal Police

Additionally, the task forces work closely with the Red Lake Police Department, Minnesota State Patrol, Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Border Patrol, Cass County and the U.S. Marshals Service, even though they aren’t full members.


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