Users hooked on crime

Addicts steal to pay for habit; police say meth now a preferred substance

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Marietta police officer J.D. Wallace gets into a cruiser behind the city’s downtown police station on Thursday. Chief Rodney Hupp and Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks both say drugs and associated crime and domestic problems continued to be the area’s main law enforcement challenge in 2017.

The use of illegal drugs, their sale and crimes associated with their activity is the main concern for both of Washington County’s head law enforcement officials as 2017 draws to a close.

And both Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks and Marietta Police Chief Rodney Hupp noted a trend toward an old foe in the area: meth.

“The overarching and overriding issue is drugs, and the transfer we’re seeing is the use of one drug for another,” Hupp said. “They’re switching over from heroin and opiates to meth, that’s absolutely the feedback I’m getting from our guys on the street and the task force.”

Hupp and Mincks both said the drug problem is at the root of most other forms of crime, from theft to child abuse, as drug users seek money to feed their habits and neglect or abandon their families in the process.

“Everything we are finding is narcotics-related,” Mincks said. “It’s all about the demand for getting money, snatch and grab, they’re looking at shopping centers, private residences, stores, just walking in and taking it out.”

As the year ends, neither the chief nor the sheriff saw any remarkable changes in crime trends or numbers.

“I don’t think we’re seeing any huge spike in any one thing,” Mincks said. “Breaking and entering, small theft, those are pretty large, and of course burglaries seem to be about holding their own.”

Although national figures released this week for 2016 indicate accidental drug overdoses that year at an all-time high — enough to slightly impact life expectancy across the country for the second consecutive year — Mincks said his agency has registered four overdose deaths, which is a trend downward.

“Of course, that’s still too many,” he said. “One is too many.”

Both men find the trend toward meth worrying, and Mincks said he sees drug cartels working in the background.

“If the dealers are buying a kilo of heroin, the cartels are throwing in a kilo of meth for free to establish customers,” he said. Dealers, cartels and customers have come to recognize the increasing danger of death inherent in more powerful mixtures of heroin and synthetic opiates such as fentanyl and are changing their preferences, he said.

“One of the things we have to recognize that drug users find it real easy to OD and die, but rather than stop using, they switch to a drug that has less potential to kill you,” Hupp said. “The other part is that this meth we’re seeing now is not the home-brewed variety, like years ago when people were cooking it in their own houses or basements. We’re dealing now with a product that’s more a part of a cartel, it’s pharmaceutical grade.”

Like heroin use, meth addiction has ramifications across the crime spectrum and throughout the community.

“I’m not a sociologist, and one thing we don’t do is really effective and efficient statistical analysis, but I can say anecdotally, the vast majority of property crime here is driven by drug use, and so is domestic violence and assault, they seem to have drug component at their core,” Hupp said.

Mincks said the number of children being put up for adoption in the county continues to rise, in part because of parents made incompetent and negligent through drug use.

“Parents aren’t caring for their children, and that’s putting more pressure on children services as more kids are being put out for adoption,” he said.

Mincks said there’s probably no end in sight.

“I think we’re always going to be looking at this,” he said. “We have addicts, they need a supply, after they exhaust their funds, they start stealing. We’re always going to have breaking and entering, petty crime, stuff like that.”

The sheriff’s office will concentrate on interdiction — limiting the supply of drugs — in the coming year, he said. He hopes a newly acquired police dog trained to detect drugs might help those efforts, along with some success in recruiting.

“We didn’t have a dog for use on the road before this,” he said. “And we’ve tried to fill our vacancies. We’re pretty close to having all our shifts full now.”

By the numbers

Washington County Sheriff’s office case reports to date, 2017

¯ Assaults: 58.

¯ Breaking and entering: 48.

¯ Burglaries: 44.

¯ Domestic violence: 228.

¯ Rape: 11.

¯ Theft: 303.

Marietta City Police, crime count to date, 2017

¯ Assaults: 47.

¯ Breaking and entering: 7.

¯ Burglary: 33.

¯ Rape: 13.

¯ Robbery: 1.

¯ Theft: 338.

Sources: Washington County Sheriff, Marietta Police Department

¯ Note: Numbers are highlights, do not include all case categories