HANCOCK COUNTY — In his first five months on the job, the county’s new undercover narcotics detective has helped prosecutors bring 63 criminal charges against people accused of dealing and possessing drugs.

Declaring the county’s drug problem at a state of emergency last fall, the Hancock County Council used $100,000 in reserve funds to hire the officer, who law enforcement leaders said would be dedicated to taking dealers off the streets.

Prosecutors have pursued criminal cases against 16 people the detective has investigated since Oct. 1, and half of those defendants are accused of dealing drugs including heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana, records show.

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Of the 63 criminal charges stemming from the officer’s work so far, 36 were felony offenses. That’s an impressive number for five months’ work, Sheriff Mike Shepherd said. In 2011, prosecutors filed 10 fewer drug-related felonies countywide in the course of an entire year.

The detective has opened about 30 cases in his short time with the department, and that number is growing each day, Shepherd said.

The city-county drug task force dissolved in 2010 after a narcotics officer resigned after admitting to stealing from the drug-buy fund; department leaders disbanded the group during the investigation, and formal plans to reinstate its efforts were never made.

Without a concentrated drug-enforcement effort, prosecution of drug-dealers plummeted. In 2009, at the height of the task force’s efforts, prosecutors brought charges against 44 people accused of dealing drugs; by 2012, that number had dropped to 12, records show.

Last year, the sheriff’s department and Greenfield Police Department each added a narcotics officer to their ranks. The two officers don’t form an official task force, as each is supervised by his own department, but they will work together and share information regularly, officials said.

Greenfield’s officer took on drug investigations full time in January. Local leaders are eager to see what the partnership brings, said Maj. Brad Burkhart, the sheriff’s chief deputy.

What they’ve learned already is that having officers strictly working narcotics investigations does much more than put people behind bars, Burkhart said.

The undercover narcotics detective has already given the sheriff’s department great insight on drug trends in the county, and the detective’s undercover work gives the department an up-close peek into the lives of local drug users, Burkhart said.

Having an additional officer in the department’s investigations unit allows other detectives to keep their focus on other crimes, said Capt. Jeff Rasche, the division’s commander.

Before the undercover detective was hired, the sheriff’s detectives split their time between narcotics and other investigations, which sometimes led to a backlog of cases.

Having an additional set of hands allows for investigators to stay focused while also concentrating their efforts in an area they say was neglected for years, Rasche said.

Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton said his office at least once a week receives a report about a drug case the new detective is handling. He’s been impressed by the quality of those investigations, as they’ve allowed prosecutors to file higher-level felony charges that get to root of the county’s drug issues, Eaton said.

“You can’t just arrest a kid for smoking pot or catch people with drugs during traffic stops and think you’ll solve the problem,” he said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.