Task force fights drugs in Boardman

The Narcotics Enforcement Unit has dramatically increased drug investigations and arrests.
BOARDMAN -- There are no hard and fast statistics to cite.
But Boardman Police Chief Jeffrey Patterson and his officers know the story that's told each day inside the department's crime reports: Illegal drugs are the source of much of the township's crime.
In some incidents and arrests, it's obvious -- marijuana or cocaine here, possession of drug paraphernalia there. But even in many of the other cases -- thefts, burglaries, purse snatching -- the motivation behind the scenes often is drugs.
"I'm very confident that 80 percent or more of all our crimes are related to drugs," Patterson said.
About four years ago, Patterson created a Narcotics Enforcement Unit with a full-time officer assigned for the first time to battle drugs in Boardman, along with six part-time officers who already had been spending some time on drug enforcement. He also added an officer to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Task Force battling drugs in the region and provided additional narcotics training for patrol officers.
A four-year review of the NEU shows the extra focus on narcotics was needed. After only a handful of drug investigations in 2000, that figure leapt to 192 within a year and rose to 289 by 2003.
The figures aren't in yet for last year, but Patterson said the number of investigations should top the 300 figure. Patterson has focused on investigations to get an idea of how many times the unit went out to check into a complaint, instead of only arrests.
Enforcement focus
But the arrest figures by the NEU since 2000 also are impressive. After 26 arrests in 2000, that jumped to 49 the next year and 63 by 2002. With the help of a huge summer raid in 2003, arrests hit 113 that year and stood at 84 in 2004 from the NEU.
"I think it's primarily a greater focus by the department as a whole on drug enforcement, as well as the use of additional resources," Patterson said.
The department has seized more than $180,000 during arrests with the DEA in the past three years, including $96,000 in 2004.
And there have been some high-profile cases, such as the raid that eventually led to the closing of the Terrace Motel on Market Street as a nuisance.
Sgt. Mike Hughes, head of the NEU, said it's not as though Boardman officers didn't go out on drug investigations before 2000 or when the unit was created that year. But the focus when the NEU was first formed was more on drug couriers traveling the highways and on drug dealers using local hotels to receive drugs that might have been destined for sale in the township.
Now, the focus is on local drug enforcement, trying to take some kind of action with every complaint about drugs called into the department. That explains the big jump in investigations and arrests.
"It's pretty much every day our schedule is filled," Hughes said.
Local impact
Thanks to a federal grant, which pays for overtime of the three Boardman officers, some of the those drug investigations involve the DEA, like last week's search on Applecrest Court that followed a three-month undercover investigation.
That search netted one arrest and police are searching for a second man who bought drugs from an undercover officer during the three-month investigation.
As officers searched two apartments, neighbors collected down the street, pointing at the police and talking to one another. It's the kind of attention that Hughes and Patterson say is vital.
"It's important to let people know that if we get a complaint we are going to do something with it every time," Patterson said. "If we keep getting complaints and people never see us do anything, they'll stop calling."
The operations are called "local impact" because they're designed to hit troubled areas and let both the drug dealers and the residents know the police don't tolerate drug dealing.
As narcotics officers and DEA agents finished Tuesday's search, Shaunda Barclay drove up to her apartment and noticed all the commotion across the driveway. The operation had an immediate "local impact" of sorts on Barclay.
The 31-year-old, who is working on her criminal justice degree at Youngstown State, raising three kids and working a job, was surprised to see police so close.
"I have never seen [any] drug traffic," she said, a look of surprise on her face.
"But I've got to be moving out. Stuff like this is getting too close to home."
Vital help
Doug Lamplugh, resident agent in charge for eight counties in Northeast Ohio for the DEA, said he assists Boardman and other local departments on several searches a year.
Because of the task force, DEA agents are more attuned to the local problems and can offer money, personnel and technical equipment that may be vital in some more involved operations.
Operations like the one on Applecrest may not seem significant, as officers readily admit the suspects were low-level street dealers. But the local impact is still great, Lamplugh said.
"When you have a neighborhood with a lot of calls about drug dealing, you have not only the drug dealers but the hard addicts, who then scour that neighborhood to steal things to pay for the drugs they want to buy," he said.
"Doing operations like this help out the local departments and they help us out as well."

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