New Braunfels Herald Zeitung (Newspaper) - April 17, 2005, New Braunfels, Texas
Page 8A — Herald-Zeitung — Sunday, April 17, 2005
CONTINUED FROM Page 1A
MOST POPULAR DRUGS IN NEW BRAUNFELS
■ Marijuana (green or brown, leafy or compacted vegetative matter often carried in plastic bag-gies) Smoked.______________
26 Mony arrests made since January
“stings” like those seen on television cop shows — they’re labor intensive in an environment where detectives get at least several new cases to work every day.
“So far this year, we’ve prosecuted 26 felony drug cases — and that’s not counting the misdemeanor stuff, which is at least twice that,” he said. “TVventy-six cases in three and a half months? Do the math: It’s more than 7 felony cases each month."
Also, Rust said, there have been five deaths attributed to drug overdoses in New Braunfels over the past year.
“One is too many, and w'e’ve had many more than that,” Rust said. “ We’ve tried to warn people that the stuff they’re putting in their system is not good — and sometimes it can kill you.”
Rust said the cases only represent a very small percentage of what cops know is out there. But “knowing” it and “proving” it legally for probable cause for a search warrant or "beyond a reasonable doubt" are very different things, Rust said. For the Constitution to protect lawabiding citizens, it must also offer some level of protection to criminals, he said.
Rust knows that can be frustrating for a citizen who calls to report a drug dealer or suspected drug dealer because it’s hard to explain that there are legal criteria to be met — that the cops can’t just kick down the doors like on TV
“We need ‘probable cause,’” Rust said. “Probable cause is more than just a phone call telling us that someone’s dealing drugs out of a residence.”
That doesn’t mean police don’t want people to call — because they do.
“This is a community problem and if we could get the community dealing with it, it would be over," Rust said. “Any call is good information — important information because it helps us put togeihr er a total picture. Sometimes one calI isn t enough. But every call is a help. I’m sure everyone in New Braunfels sees something related to illegal drugs — if they look careftilly at it.”
Over at the Comal County Sheriff’s Office, Capt. Dennis Koepp is in charge of CID and the Comal County Metropolitan Narcotics Task Force, a joint New Braunfels Police/Comal County Sheriff’s Office unit comprised of undercover narcotics detectives.
The task force was started in the late 1990s, Koepp said, when Sheriff Bob Holder and other local officials realized they might be able to take some of the region’s larger drug players off the street if they could dedicate detective time directly to the task.
The operation is a local one and includes detectives from the NBP!) and CCSO who do nothing but work undercover narcotics cases. The district attorney’s office also partici-
■ Cocaine (white powder or crystalline substance. In its cheapest form, "crack," it comes in small, white "rocks.") Smoked, crushed and inhaled through the nose or dissolved and injected.
■ Heroin (white, tan or brown powder, stored in little jars, intricately folded paper or very small zip lock plastic bags) Smoked, inhaled through the nose or dissolved and injected.
Parents, you can keep your children away from drugs
■ Methamphetamine (white powder or crystalline substance) Manufactured in home "labs" in New Braunfels and Comal County as well as around the United States. Inhaled, smoked or dissolved and injected. __ ______
■ Mushrooms (dried, small caps and stems, sold by the gram in baggies) A strong hallucinogenic "trip" similar to LSO, which has also been reported in New Braunfels.
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pates, Koepp said.
So far, most of the cases the task force has made have been plea-bargained away without coming to trial, although there have been a couple of spectacular trials in recent years involving the local drug trade and the Mexican Mafia that have resulted in decades-long sentences. Several other big-ticket drug cases are now winding their way toward local trials.
“We realized we might be able to do more if we did it together,” Koepp said. “We got with the city, and they agreed.”
Before the task force, county detectives working narcotics cases would have to approach the city when a case crossed the city limits. Under the task force model and the interlocal agreement that supports it, the officers work where they need to.
"Under the agreement, they work with us in the county, and we can go into the city to work with them. Our officers work together, so it’s an easier flow,” Koepp said. “We just get on with business and don’t have to worry about the political boundaries.”
The local task force also works with a regional Department of Public Safety Task Force headquartered in New Braunfels, and works with other agencies. If, for example, a drug case comes under investigation in the Guadalupe County part of New Braunfels, the regional task force and Guadalupe County officers can also participate. An advantage of that sort of blending of resources is it brings many fresh — and unknown — faces into the mix.
I tan investigation in Comal County could be compromised because someone locally might recognize an undercover officer, one can be “borrowed’’ from elsewhere.
“The hardest part of any drug investigation is to get into
the inner circle of a major dealer,” Koepp said.
In the county, Koepp said he sees many of the kinds of arrests the NBPD makes in the city—a suspicious traffic stop or officers who are called to a domestic disturbance and see signs of drugs at the home.
But the local (frug task forces, Koepp said, have been enjoying a good year finding drugs — and Finding facilities for manufacturing one of the most common drugs here: methamphetamine.
“We started this year right off the bat with several search warrants,” Koepp said. “What we’ve been seeing lately is a steady increase in the number of meth labs popping up in both the city and the county.”
Methamphetamine, an illegal stimulant sometimes called “speed” or “crank” can be manufactured by those with the knowhow from available industrial chemicals and an over-the-counter medication.
Recent laws designed to curtail availability of the medica-tion have led to its being replaced with a chemical used in agriculture.
"Wednesday, we had a meth lab in Bulverde,” Koepp said. "Sunday, we had one in New Braunfels.”
The meth labs are problematic because they are so dangerous, Koepp said. When officers encounter one, they throw a cordon around it and call in a hazardous materials team to take it apart for fear of explosion or poisoning. Cleaning up a meth lab costs between $8,000 and $14,000 — much of it paid through federal grants.
Task force officers are trained through the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration to deal with the mechanics of investigating meth labs.
“The DEA provides them training and equipment that keeps them safe in dealing with the hazards of taking
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down a meth lab,” Koepp said.
One important aspect of the drug business is that drugs aren’t cheap and people who use them have to find a way to pay for them. So much other crime — thefts, burglaries, robberies, assaults and even murders—is bred by the (frug business.
“We had that homicide in Solms a couple years ago,” Koepp said. “They didn’t get the guy they were looking for, but that was over drug money.”
Most if not all, thefts go to pay for (frugs as well, Koepp said.
Like Rust, Koepp said his officers welcome and would investigate tips provided by the public.
“When the public gets involved, that’s an extra set of eyes and ears to steer us in the right direction,” he said.
By Bon Maloney
Is there a drug problem in your house? Believe it or not, there could be and you might not even know about it.
The lead undercover investigators in Comal County’s Metropolitan Narcotics Task Force look a lot more like dope dealers than they do police officers. That’s because in their work, they hang out with dope dealers.
Looks, both detectives will tell you, can be deceiving.
The officers offered hints to the Herald-Zeitung under condition that their names, descriptions or photos not be published by the newspaper.
"The very first thing I always tell parents is to never be afraid to go through their kids’ rooms,” the first officer said. “You’re responsible not only for your child’s health, but for his behavior and his actions. Worry more about being a parent and taking care of your kid than what the kid’s going to think about you going through his tilings.”
A drug problem ignored will not get better on its own, the officer said. The situation needs to be confronted and help sought — counseling help and law enforcement help, the detective said.
“These problems don’t go away on their own. Generally, they only get worse. Whatever you do, don’t ignore it,” the detective said. “You have the option of handling it yourself — confront your kid — and you have the option of calling us. We encourage parents to call us to help them deal with this situation. Call a dispatcher and an officer will be sent right out.”
Watch for marijuana, pipes, cigarette rolling papers or other materials that could be used to smoke the drug, the detective said. For “harder” drugs, watch for small balloons — yes, balloons — that can be used to store powdered drugs, hypodermic syringes, straws, spoons with handles bent slightly so if they’re sitting on a table
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