Increase in drug busts stimulates outcry for federal aid

Amount of meth lab busts
Graphic by Bill Portoghese | The Oswegonian

After police discovered four methamphetamine labs in Oswego County in the past two months, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) encouraged the county to apply for the High Intensity Drug Area [HIDTA] federal program.

Being recognized as a HIDTA could entitle the county to millions of dollars in federal aide to assist local police departments combat methamphetamine production and consumption.

“With the number of methamphetamine busts and arrests on the rise in Central New York, the time is now to crack down and to stop the dangerous spread of crystal meth in its tracks,” Schumer said in a statement. “This devastating drug can literally rip our families and communities apart, we can’t let that happen.”

The Oswego County Sheriff’s Department discovered the first two methamphetamine labs in the towns of Williamstown and Mexico during the month of October, leading to five arrests.

“We are seeing a rise in the meth labs in this area,” Sheriff Reuel Todd said. He said meth is easier to transport because it can be held in smaller containers than marijuana.

“Certainly being here in a rural area, people here are realizing it can be done,” he said. “Now the consequences if you get caught, they are starting to see are a little stronger than for most of your drug possessions. So whether or not that will be a deterrent yet, I don’t know.”

The Oswego city police discovered a mobile methamphetamine lab after pulling over a car in the Lowes parking lot in November leading to one arrest. The investigation led them to 3 Mary St., where they found a methamphetamine lab, which was not currently in use, and three more individuals were arrested.

“We certainly need the money to keep the people on the street that, like I say, are the eyes and the ears, that are the ones that the people come to, to talk to,” Todd said. “[HIDTA] is something we need.”

Under Schumer’s plan, Oswego County would apply to the Office of National Control Policy (ONDCP), which started declaring regions with critical drug trafficking problems HIDTAs under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988.

If Oswego County is recognized it would join more than 15 counties in the New York and New Jersey HIDTA group, one of the 28 headquarters across the country.

“Any assistance like that we receive is always helpful, we’ve been dedicating a lot of resources,” Oswego City Captain Michael Beckwith said. “ We’ve had a really targeted increase against this problem for the last year or so now, while although results have been very positive because of that it unfortunately is very expensive. It requires a lot of police resources and man-hours, which costs money.”

“It is clear that Oswego County and all of Central New York need additional federal and private assistance in fighting back against both production and consumption before this trend reaches epidemic proportions,” Schumer said. “That’s why I’m pushing for Oswego County to be designated as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, making them eligible for specific drug trafficking programs and initiatives to reduce meth in the region.”

A 2007 Bureau of Justice Statistics special report found that while the use of other drugs by state prisoners remained largely static between 1997 and 2004, methamphetamine use rose.

“It is a very, very addicting drug, highly, highly addictive,” Todd said.

He also said that process of making methamphetamine is dangerous.

“If it explodes, you are going to have a very, very serious fire,” Todd said. “I mean because of the chemicals and the vapors you’re going to see an explosion and a very, very fast, high-intensity fire. It doesn’t take much, it’s more explosive then just regular gasoline and the fumes and everything else.”

By becoming a HIDTA, the federal government will help support the local police financially.

“Smart law enforcement, drug education and drug treatment all play a vital role in reducing drug use and its consequences in upstate New York and across the nation,” ONDCP spokesperson Rafael Lemaitre said in an email. “By law – every request for expanding the HIDTA program will be reviewed by a panel of qualified, independent experts to ensure that Federal drug control resources are deployed effectively and efficiently.”