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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

June 2019 | Volume 12 | Issue 5

When Minnesota law enforcement agencies began talking about creating a task force to help tackle the escalating opioid crisis, they started by considering its victims.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Minnesota’s Native American and Alaska Native population is five times more likely than Minnesota’s White population to experience a drug overdose. That disparity is greater in Minnesota than any other state that reports race data on overdoses. Drug treatment admission data show that, for the first time ever, more members of Minnesota’s tribal community are seeking treatment for heroin abuse than are seeking treatment for alcohol abuse.

Clearly, a task force developed to address this issue must include tribal law enforcement as a key partner.

With a $1.4 million, two-year federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) established the Minnesota Anti-Heroin Task Force (AHTF). Its mission is to help local agencies address the heroin problem in Indian Country communities by disrupting the flow of heroin into Minnesota and to investigate all overdose-related deaths.

Interest from local and tribal law enforcement agencies exceeded expectations. Since the AHTF formed in February 2018, the BCA has entered into joint powers agreements with 39 agencies including six of Minnesota’s 11 sovereign nations and nine of the state’s 21 Violent Offender Task Forces.

Drug Traffickers Target Two Minnesota Indian Reservations

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) received an anonymous tip in 2017 about possible drug activity at a residence on the Mille Lacs Reservation in Minnesota. Through their investigation, BIA and the Mille Lacs Tribal Police Department identified a group of individuals involved in trafficking and distribution of heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanyl targeting the Mille Lacs and Red Lake Indian reservations.

An 18-month investigation pulled in resources from the Mille Lacs and Red Lake Tribal Police Departments, the Anti-Heroin Task Force, BIA, Lakes Area Drug Task Force, Paul Bunyan Drug Task Force, Mille Lacs County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Agents developed confidential sources who conducted successful controlled buys from multiple suspects. The buys netted more than 120 grams of heroin, some of which tested positive for fentanyl and carfentanyl. Law enforcement identified the primary distributors and tracked them to a residence on the Mille Lacs Reservation. Agents surveilled the suspects as they traveled to and from Minneapolis.

Law enforcement then executed a search warrant on the residence and located approximately 80 grams of heroin, approximately 25 grams of cocaine, and 4 grams of methamphetamine. Three suspects were arrested on state drug charges, and one suspect was arrested on an outstanding warrant. Investigators identified drug source suppliers from Minneapolis and Chicago.

The case was forwarded to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis for review, and eventually eight suspects were federally indicted for their roles in the conspiracy.

Most of the grant is designated for overtime costs for local officers investigating heroin trafficking. To date, the BCA has paid out $78,000 in overtime and encumbered $242,000 on additional approved cases—with proven results, as shown in table 1.

Table 1. Successes of the BCA since February 2018

Heroin seized 1658.89 g
Heroin purchased 407.805 g
Fentanyl seized 88.2 mcg
Fentanyl purchased 100.84 mcg
Pharmaceuticals seized 22
Pharmaceuticals purchased 41
Total investigations 87
Total arrests 63
Search warrants 85
Overdose death investigations 24

These successes point to the value of establishing and strengthening partnerships with tribal law enforcement. BCA task force members met with Minnesota’s tribal liaison and several tribal chiefs to further grow task force participation among sovereign nations. They also shared AHTF goals with Minnesota’s Indian Affairs Council. An AHTF program coordinator regularly attends multidisciplinary tribal conferences to learn about other heroin-related efforts in their communities and Tribal Violent Offender and Narcotics Task Force meetings to engage and support tribal law enforcement partners’ efforts.

Beyond enforcement, the AHTF is working with the state’s Department of Health to improve communication about heroin overdose incidents by promoting the use of an overdose mapping tool—the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, or ODMAP—to help public safety and public health entities identify and respond to overdose clusters and trends both within Minnesota’s tribal communities and across the state.

The task force also worked with Minnesota’s Office of Justice Programs to identify best practices for tracking and reporting cases and develop forms that make it easier for agencies to participate across specialties and jurisdictions.

Now in its second year, the AHTF is focused on continuing to address overdose racial disparities by reducing heroin and other illicit opioid activity in Minnesota Indian Country and on increasing partnerships with the multiple stakeholder groups battling this crisis. The COPS Office funding has enabled these investigations and partnerships to come together and has enhanced Minnesota's ability to fight the opioid crisis.

Susan Burggraf
Special Agent in Charge
Bemidji Regional Office
Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension

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