GREENFIELD — It’s been five years since the disbanding of the local drug task force left Hancock County without a concentrated effort to stem drugs in the area, but police want the public to know they are now back in the business of getting drug dealers off the street.
The county’s task force dissolved in 2010 after allegations arose of missing money from drug-buy funds, but a recent increase in heroin abuse and overdoses have officials saying it’s time to be more aggressive. Leaders in the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and Greenfield Police Department recently dedicated two detectives to narcotics investigations — one officer the public will know well and the other residents will rarely see.
The officers won’t be an official task force — each will be supervised by his own department — but they will work together, and their aim will be coordinated.
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“We’re ready to get back in the dope business,” sheriff’s detective Capt. Jeff Rasche said.
In August — after months of prodding from the sheriff’s department — the Hancock County Council approved the department’s request to hire a new detective who would be dedicated to narcotics investigations.
During the city of Greenfield’s 2016 budget talks, Police Chief John Jester requested an additional two officers for next year. One of those officers will be devoted to drug investigations.
From the beginning, both departments have said their officers will work together, and Rasche said that partnership gives them the best chance of success.
A wide range of drugs fall under the umbrella of narcotics, including cocaine and many prescription medications; heroin, an opium-based narcotic, is growing in popularity among Hancock County’s drug-users, and police say it’s causing an increasing number of overdoses. Coroner records show there were 10 heroin-related overdoses in the first six months of the year.
The county council decided those deaths constituted an emergency, and members approved the transfer of $100,000 to fund a public safety initiative to combat the problem.
The sheriff’s department opted to promote a road deputy to the new rank; a new patrol officer will be hired as a replacement.
The investigator will start his narcotics patrols at the start of October, but the department has decided not to release the officer’s name or put his picture out for the public, said Rasche, head of the department’s investigations unit. Keeping the officer’s identity private will allow him to conduct undercover work as needed.
The Greenfield Police Department, however, is taking an entirely different approach.
Detective Sgt. John Cutler, a veteran of the department’s investigation unit, will become the department’s new narcotics officer and the face of the enforcement effort, detective Lt. Randy Ratliff said.
They want Cutler to be everywhere: speaking at schools, meeting with local organizations and taking a lead role in active investigations. His goal will be to educate the public while building relationships with community members who might be able to provide tips about drug activity.
Cutler will hopefully become the face of the departments’ narcotics investigations, Ratliff said, and, despite funding for the position not being available until after the New Year, he’ll start his duties as soon as possible.
“He’ll be the person the public can communicate with and associate with and still be on the active end of the investigations,” Ratliff said.
Cutler currently handles an array of investigations for the Greenfield police, but he’s always had an interest in narcotics cases. At that start of 2016, he’ll be able to set aside those other crimes and focus his attention on catching drug-dealers.
And he, like other officers, has noticed a trend in recent years: the burglaries, robberies and thefts he has worked on always seem to lead back to a drug-user trying to support their habit, Cutler said. He’s eager to make a dent in that problem.
By giving Cutler a vocal presence in the county, officers are hoping the community will engage in effort as well and report suspicious activity, officials said. Whether by Facebook message, a visit to either department or an anonymous phone call, sharing information is an important aspect of the job, Ratliff said.
There hasn’t been an organized enforcement effort like this since August 2010 when the Hancock County Drug Enforcement Section was disbanded.
That task force, which consisted of three officers from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and the Greenfield Police Department, was suspended indefinitely after its lead detective admitted to pocketing money intended for drug buys.
Officers are determined to make sure things are different this time around, Rasche said.
“It’s no secret that when (the task force) came to a screeching halt, it was a horrible deal,” Rasche said. “It was an embarrassment to law enforcement; it was an embarrassment to our department specifically. And we’re going to make sure that isn’t going to happen again. We’re going to do this the right way.”
Police ask anyone with information about drug use in their area to call the department tip line. The line is anonymous and accepts messages.
Outside city limits: 317-477-DRUG