Monday, October 20, 2014

Agencies tackle drug woes

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 8/8/2014

Methamphetamine-related crimes now are the area’s largest criminal activity — a trait Ottawa and Franklin County share with many other Kansas communities, Dennis Butler said.

“Addicts there and here in Ottawa who use meth will steal anything that is left unsecured,” Butler, Ottawa police chief, said. “They will walk through neighborhoods opening car doors to steal phones, GPS devices, change from ashtrays, tools — you name it — to sell or trade for meth.”

Methamphetamine-related crimes now are the area’s largest criminal activity — a trait Ottawa and Franklin County share with many other Kansas communities, Dennis Butler said.

“Addicts there and here in Ottawa who use meth will steal anything that is left unsecured,” Butler, Ottawa police chief, said. “They will walk through neighborhoods opening car doors to steal phones, GPS devices, change from ashtrays, tools — you name it — to sell or trade for meth.”

Tactics

While combatting the problem involves a multi-pronged approach, Butler said, the community can help by residents being vigilant about locking homes, garages, sheds, car doors and bicycles to reduce the number of thefts and burglaries. Jeff Richards, Franklin County sheriff, agreed law enforcement and community members must work together to fight the drug’s presence.

“It’s not unique to Franklin County, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it,” Richards told county commissioners in June.

Among the local efforts to reduce the impact of meth on Ottawa and Franklin County has been education of youths through the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, program. Until recently, however, the program only accepted Ottawa students.

Today, children from all four Franklin County school districts can take part.

“We’ve increased and stepped up our DARE program, which now gets us out now to all of the school districts in the county,” Richards said, noting the sheriff’s office worked with each school district to help expand the program into an all-inclusive educational opportunity for Franklin County youths.

Along with DARE, the sheriff’s office also utilizes a special drug enforcement unit, Richards told a crowd July 22 at an Ottawa candidate forum. A few officers have been taken off patrol to focus on drug enforcement.

Outcomes

Speaking with county commissioners during budget discussions in early June, Richards explained the sheriff’s office had an increase in arrests in the past year, which resulted in more inmates than jail cells available. The cause of the uptick in inmates, Richards said, seemed clear: methamphetamine imported from Mexico. It has become cheaper for drug dealers to sell imported drugs than make it themselves, he said, noting Ottawa’s proximity to the I-35 corridor puts the community right along the drug supply line.

“Most of the things that people are in for is alcohol or drugs. They are a very large contributing factor on all the crimes that we have people in jail for,” Richards said in June. “I’ve said it before, but we in Franklin County have a drug problem.”

Once Richards was appointed sheriff in 2013, he noticed the DARE program curriculum was not being delivered as the program’s guidelines suggest, Butler said. With the help of the Ottawa Police Department’s two officers with DARE credentials, each school district in the county received the same amount of focus the program demands, he said.

“Despite what some claim about the effectiveness of DARE, my experience is that it is effective for police officers to have positive interaction with youth about making good choices in every aspect of their lives, not just regarding drug prevention,” Butler said.

Although the law enforcement agencies are working to curtail the drug problem, the agencies cannot do it alone, Butler said. The community itself plays a huge role in children’s potential drug use, he said.

“I believe [DARE] delays or prevents usage, but most of the outcome, as they grow older, is influenced by parents and peers,” Butler said. “These two groups have the most impact, both positive and negative, on our youth as they mature. I have seen some amazing success stories and more disappointments that I care to admit, but one has to look at the total picture with failures. It is rare to see a kid choose meth who comes from a supportive, loving family, with mature coping and parenting skills, who promote education and good values with goals and dreams for their children.”

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