Drug task force battling heroin
When New Richmond Police Department first came into contact with heroin last fall, Police Chief Mark Samelstad was already aware that St. Croix County, and the City of Hudson in particular, was in the throes of a heroin crisis, with multiple overdose deaths and several known addicts.
NRPD’s own Detective Veronica Koehler is part of the St. Croix Valley Drug Task Force that is responsible for investigating drug crime in the three-county area of western Wisconsin that includes St. Croix, Polk and Pierce counties. In St. Croix County, investigators Jim Mikla and James “J.J.” Haefner of the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office are also on the task force.
According to statistics provided by Lt. Cathy Borgschatz of the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office, the task force opened 1,446 new investigations in 2013 with 418 misdemeanor arrests and 504 felony arrests, though not every arrest resulted in a formal charge.
“It’s a problem,” Mikla said. “We know it’s out there, and we are utilizing every resource that we have between the three counties in every agency to deal with it. We certainly do have a problem, but I think it’s a problem we have a handle on.”
Borgschatz’s statistics also show that the task force in 2013 alone seized nearly 12.2 pounds of marijuana, nearly 3 pounds of methamphetamine, 641 prescription pills and about 12 grams of heroin.
Though the amount of heroin may seem very small, Borgschatz said it is common for the drug to be sold by the tenth of a gram. She said the statistics are also skewed a little lower because of how evidence reporting procedures work among the multiple agencies that work together on drug cases.
A team approach
Investigating drug crime is a team sport. Even though law enforcement agencies are organized along municipal borders, drug dealers and addicts don’t care what town, village, city, county or state they are in.
“We’re a group of individuals that work together and share information,” Mikla said. “We share personnel and we all work together as a unit. We utilize resources in each town, whether it’s Hudson, River Falls, Baldwin, etc. We utilize their knowledge, their personnel, and we attack it as a team — as a drug task force.”
Oftentimes, working as a team means partnering with neighboring drug task forces, especially in the Twin Cities, where most of western Wisconsin’s illegal drugs come from.
“We’re going after the dealers,” Mikla said. “Obviously, when you use, you’re still looking at consequences for your use. But we like to attack it from a dealer standpoint. We do that by utilizing and sharing information and informants.”
Mikla, Haefner and Borgschatz declined to share specific stories or information from cases they have solved for fear of tipping off criminals to their tactics, resources and informants.
“We maybe sound like we’re kind of coy, but I can tell you a lot of this drug stuff all ties in together,” Mikla said. “In some way, shape or form, it all ties together. We try to keep it as tight-knit as possible, because there’s always one offshoot of the investigation that leads to something else. So, we have to keep kind of working the same circle to get inside. That’s why we don’t like to talk about war stories too much.”
That interconnected world of the drug trade keeps county investigators extremely busy. Mikla said that more than 185 drug search warrants were executed in 2013. Each search warrant is essential in a raid in which multiple officers enter a location, forcibly if necessary, to conduct a search, make arrests and seize evidence.
“These guys are very busy,” Borgschatz said. “If you look at the numbers the last couple of years, since Jim and J.J. have come on board, the number of investigations have gone up. But I don’t think their numbers can really get any higher just due to the manpower. We’re kind of working at maximum capacity. It’s a lot of weekends and a lot of late nights. There’s probably more being done than undone, and that’s a sad thing.”