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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The problem was apparent as far back as the 1990s: The use of methamphetamine, or meth, was on the rise in Wisconsin, posing a growing threat. Easy to cook in home labs from cold pills and other household ingredients, it was both affordable and very addictive.
By 2016, large quantities of the drug were also being produced and transported to Wisconsin by Mexican cartels, and methamphetamine use had reached crisis proportions. The cost in human life and public safety was huge. Hospitalizations and deaths related to methamphetamine use skyrocketed, as did violent, financial, and property crime.
To combat this epidemic, the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation (WI DOJ-DCI) entered into partnerships with local and federal law enforcement agencies, health care providers, and other community stakeholders to implement aggressive enforcement and training programs.
With the help of COPS Anti-Methamphetamine Program (CAMP) funding grants in 2016 and 2018, they also developed a statewide law enforcement task force network. This conglomeration of local, state, and federal agencies provided many new advantages, including better de-confliction and analytical case support, improved communication for intelligence sharing, and the development of stronger investigations through interagency cooperation.
Further strengthening the WI DOJ-DCI’s ability to respond to the meth threat was its use of CAMP funding to support overtime for investigators, hire a new criminal analyst, and purchase additional personal protective equipment (PPE) for law enforcement working in meth laboratory environments.
Armed with enhanced investigatory capabilities, the 34 multijurisdictional task forces working in partnership with the WI DOJ-DCI were able to significantly reduce the manufacture, distribution, and use of methamphetamine in the state. In the first quarter of 2019 alone, these task forces carried out 322 drug seizures—collecting a total of 7127.55 grams of methamphetamine—and processed three meth labs.
The agencies also seized 17 precursor chemicals for manufacturing methamphetamine and arrested 239 people on a total of 698 charges. The 58 search warrants they obtained led to the rescue of 41 drug-endangered children.
Though the credit for these successful operations goes to the hard work of the law enforcement personnel involved, the enhancement of WI DOJ-DCI’s intelligence sharing capability has been critically instrumental in supporting their activities.
Local, state, and federal agencies working cases under Wisconsin’s CAMP grants enter information from their investigations into a statewide case management system, which not only supports the sharing of information about ongoing investigations, but also enhances de-confliction and provides valuable information about suspects’ past narcotics involvement and associations.
Detective Olsen of Sheboygan Police Department at a methamphetamine lab seizure.
This system also maintains contact information for law enforcement officers who made past entries, facilitating communication among agencies and frequently leading to collaborative investigations.
Typical of these partnerships is the Brown County Drug Task Force. Comprising officers from four jurisdictions—the Brown County Sheriff’s Office, the Green Bay Police Department, the Ashwaubenon Public Safety Department, and the De Pere Police Department—the task force includes supervisors, investigators, an evidence technician, administrative assistants, and two intelligence analysts, one from the Wisconsin National Guard.
Because Brown County covers an area close to the drug corridors connected to Milwaukee, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Chicago, sharing information with agencies throughout the state is not only critical to the identification of drug trafficking organizations, but prevents redundant efforts as well. To accomplish this, the task force’s administrative assistants enter all information—from case agent reports and the incident reports of local police departments and the sheriff’s office—into the statewide case management system.
This comprehensive data collection, which supports investigations spanning multiple jurisdictions, includes intelligence gained by patrol officers during the course of traffic stops and their other duties as well as the evidence collected by investigators, and enables access to resources from agencies such as the DEA as well.
Most of the task force’s efforts focus on suspects whom they determine to be larger-scale targets or who are operating among multiple jurisdictions. When working these investigations, the cost of controlled buys and other investigative expenses are split among agencies, making it more affordable to sustain them until all targets are identified and locations verified for search warrant applications.
An example of how these partnerships work is the investigation of a drive-by shooting believed to be retaliation for an unpaid drug debt, which was carried out by the Sheboygan Police Department and the Manitowoc County Metro Drug Unit, the WI DOJ-DCI, the Sheboygan Multi-jurisdictional Enforcement Group (MEG), and the North Central High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).
Many hours of work by all involved led to the discovery of an abandoned lab used for large-scale methamphetamine crystallization and distribution. The WI DOJ-DCI agent on scene, who was certified to process clandestine laboratories as part of the Wisconsin Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement and Response (CLEAR) team, assessed that methamphetamine crystallization had occurred.
During the ensuing search, the team recovered 1.75 pounds of crystallized methamphetamine. Based on the amount of abandoned paraphernalia they saw in the lab, investigators determined that dozens of additional pounds of methamphetamine had been processed at that location.
The investigators identified numerous latent prints at the scene and matched them to two subjects, the first of whom had ties to a drug cartel and has fled to Mexico. The second match was to a woman with significant drug history related to a high-level drug distribution group in Northern California.
The initial phase of the investigation has been completed this year and resulted in state charges on 23 subjects for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and related crimes, as well as the closing of a large-scale crystal meth processing lab and distribution network.
The WI DOJ-DCI attributes the smooth running of their task forces to the community policing principles that underlie them: collaboration and applying a problem-solving approach.
By their very nature, the task forces are collaborative efforts. And their investigations are problem-solving efforts supported by data from multiple sources, such as the state crime and hygiene laboratories, DCI investigations, and the Wisconsin Department of Health.
Working together, with support from CAMP funding grants, Wisconsin’s DOJ-DCI will continue the fight to save Wisconsin lives and communities from the destructive effects of methamphetamine.
Said Josh Kaul, Wisconsin Attorney General, “As the danger from meth has grown in Wisconsin, so has the importance of conducting long-term multijurisdictional investigations that can disrupt the supply of that lethal drug. The CAMP grants have provided significant resources in the fight against the distribution of meth, assisting law enforcement agencies that are collaborating to take down meth trafficking operations.”
Sr. Technical Writer
Methamphetamine in Indian Country
Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs, 2nd Edition
Combating Methamphetamine Laboratories and Abuse: Strategies for Success
Methamphetamine Initiative Final Environmental Assessment
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