Pubdate: Sun, 21 Nov 2004
Source: Summit Daily News (CO)
Copyright: 2004 Summit Daily News
Author: Reid Williams, Summit Daily staff


SUMMIT COUNTY - Here's a message for drug dealers: The sheriff doesn't
like you and, consequently, you probably aren't going to like him.

Recent headlines in the news attest to this: doors broken down in
raids, seizures of pounds, and pounds, of pot and cash and lots of
speculation about methamphetamines.

And most recently, a former Frisco couple who found themselves on the
receiving end of a search warrant have filed lawsuits against the law
enforcement agencies that ransacked their home in search of drugs.

But it's not that the Summit County Drug Task Force has been more
active this year, it's that its administrators are being more public
about the unit's activities. Why?

"People think that Summit County is a quiet community, that things
that happen in the city don't happen here," said Summit County
Undersheriff Derek Woodman. "They're sorely mistaken."

Most sheriffs in mountain towns agree. They are seeing increases in
property crimes, theft, violence and drug-related activity. But what
they don't agree on is the extent of enforcement of the laws of their
county, state and country.

Some, like Summit County's, have their own drug task forces. Some,
though, think the war on drugs was lost decades ago, before these task
forces ever seized their first joint.

This is a look at how different counties are addressing their culture
and economy of chemical recreation.

The force of a few

The Summit County Drug Task Force consists of a commander, Woodman, a
part-time clerical and administrative worker and two agents. The
agents are officers rotated in and out by the different police
departments in the county.

The task force is the reincarnation of a team that covered the Fifth
Judicial District overseen by the district attorney - Clear Creek,
Lake, Eagle and Summit counties. Seven years ago, the task force
disbanded. Five years ago, Summit County resurrected the task force
with the help of state grants.

In addition to donating police officers for agents, the towns of
Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco and Silverthorne, as well as the
Sheriff's Office, contribute $15,000 annually to fund the task force.

Blue River chips in $1,000. The money is matched, in varying
proportions that change each year, by the Colorado Division of Justice.

The task force's administrative assistant annually fills out
applications for the grant. The task force's operating budget this
year was about $185,000. Task force agents also use money from the
district attorney's office to execute drug buys.

Woodman said the task force's goal - written explicitly on those grant
applications - is to develop 60 cases a year netting 40 arrests of
distributors or better. In the six months between July 2002 and
January 2003, agents made 50 arrests for a variety of charges.

"I don't think we'll ever put ourselves out of work," Woodman

Woodman's statement reflects the diligence of a career law enforcement
officer as much as it does the fatalism of a realist. He and the task
force take their work seriously, but Woodman knows it's an uphill battle.

On the one hand, Woodman said that as long as the people of the state
of Colorado, and the United States, deem it appropriate that certain
drugs are illegal, those laws will be enforced.

But on the other hand, Woodman said, "It's frustrating. I could send
my son out with $50, and in an hour he'd come back with whatever I
asked for."

There are other challenges, too. It takes time to build cases against
drug offenders.

The task force uses surveillance, phone records and electricity bills,
for example, in addition to seized drugs and testimony to compile evidence.

A case could take a year, maybe more, maybe less. But the average
tenure of a drug task force agent is two years. Woodman said that,
just when the agents get up to speed, they move on - a bigger agency,
a bigger city with more action draws them away.

The successes are what keeps the fight alive, and it's not just

"Sure, every case we build is a success," Woodman said. "It might
sound cliché, but our success is the old adage: If we can change one
person's life, get them to where they're no longer involved in that,
we did well. And we've had that."

Other counties and their sheriffs operate as Summit County does. Eagle
County is part of a drug task force, as is Glenwood Springs, Routt
County and most Front Range cities and counties.

Routt County Sheriff John Warner's office is part of GRAMNET, a task
force that joins his county with Grand and Moffat counties. The battle
- - and it's a battle, not a war, because drug dealers arm themselves if
you call it the latter, Warner said - is uphill, but he, too, believes
the task force's efforts are effective.

Warner also prides himself on the task force's education outreach.
Agents visit schools to make presentations, and the task force works
closely with Steamboat Ski Area to make the slopes drug free.

"For 99 percent of the people who use drugs, one of the side effects
is paranoia," Warner said. "If they're looking over their shoulder
during a deal, then we're making a dent. And, yes, they are thinking

The other view

Only in Aspen will you find the sheriff with a personal friend who
found fame and fortune writing books and stories about his drug-addled

But it's not Sheriff Bob Braudis' acquaintance with Hunter S. Thompson
that has shaped his policy toward drug law enforcement, it's his

For the past 17 years of his five terms as sheriff, Braudis has spoken
out against undercover drug enforcement work and task forces, and his
citizens have supported him.

Braudis believes the drug war was lost 30 years ago, that drug
addiction is a medical issue not a legal issue and that, for his
officers, it's an expensive, dangerous and not-so-beneficial

They do enforce drug-related laws in Pitkin County. If a citizen calls
in a complaint, deputies investigate. People pulled over for traffic
stops with a stash in the glovebox still pout when it gets

And if other agencies need to come in to Pitkin County to conduct a
sting, Braudis gives them deputies to secure a perimeter or enhance
the safety of an operation. But that's where Braudis draws the line.

He doesn't think task forces will find, much less catch, "Mr.

A quarter-century ago, there were Mr. Bigs: They drove fancy cars, had
trophy homes and didn't care if anybody wondered why they didn't have a job.

These days, Braudis said, if there is a Mr. Big, he's very insulated
from legal danger. And, the Mr. Bigs that police should be going after
are sitting pretty.

"South of the border, we have generals loading planes," Braudis said.
"If you can't stop it at the source, you won't stop it on the street."

San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters agrees, even feels more
strongly about the subject - he wrote a book called "Drug War
Addiction." He didn't always feel that way, though.

Masters, sheriff for 23 years and undersheriff and Telluride Police
chief for five years before that, started out trying to arrest every
drug offender he could. He thought that would solve the problem. The
exact opposite occurred, he said.

He started to see the need for a different approach, he said, after
Telluride and drugs became popularly associated in former Eagles
guitarist Glenn Frey's recording hit, "Smugglers Blues," and fans were
burning his effigy.

Masters likens the current attack on drugs to prohibition. In 1919,
Congress approved the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing
the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating beverages.

Masters said that now, like the 1920s, the federal government is
telling local governments what's right and wrong, and the result is an
increase in use of the prohibited substance and a rise in crime and
violence surrounding it.

The sheriff said he just doesn't see the sense in it.

"The year before Sept. 11 (2001), we busted 750,000 Americans for
marijuana and one terrorist," Masters said. "And (Attorney General
John) Ashcroft is telling everyone we'll fight the war on terror just
like we fought the war on drugs. That's how far from reality they are
- - they're busting bong manufacturers as if bongs cause people to use

Money changes everything

Summit County Sheriff John Minor is pragmatic about the whole subject.
This is a capitalist society, the sheriff said, and where there is a
demand, there will be a supply. "And we try to be compassionate when
we can," Minor said.

On the other hand, he is a sworn law enforcement officer, bound to
uphold the law. So if people are manufacturing or growing drugs, if
they are distributors of drugs and, especially, if they're doing any
of those anywhere near children, "I don't like them," Minor said.

"Drug dealers don't give anything back to the community, they just
take," he said. "We're going to go after them, and they're not going
to like me."

The sheriff sees the drug task force's mission as not so much to
eradicate a problem, but manage it.

Minor said the task force targets mid-level criminals - distributors,
or wholesalers if you will, and dealers - more than users. All of
them, however, are useful in soliciting information, so that agents
can develop a web of names, connecting dots to find people at the top
of the pyramid.

Hopefully, this will prevent violence that has become commonplace with
drug activity in cities and suburbs. Minor notes that Summit County's
criminal element is changing with the times: They protect their
merchandise with video surveillance and firearms. Large quantities of
drugs are often connected to gangs, as well, he said.

And the sheriff is well aware that every bust could lead to potential

"When we bust somebody that has 50 grand in cash, that's 50 grand that
somebody's not getting paid," Minor said.

To put the money factor in better perspective, try a simple math

A recent bust in Dillon yielded $50,000 in cash and just over 50
pounds of high-grade pot. In bulk, that pot sells for $4,000 a pound.
If that one dealer sells that much marijuana four times a year, that's
$800,000 a year.

The sellers he sold to peddle that same pot along these lines: $50 for
an eighth-ounce, to $400 for an ounce. That's $2,400 profit on each
pound for that seller, adding another $120,000 to the economy from
those 50 pounds alone.

If there are just 10 people in Summit County like that first
wholesaler, that's more than $9 million in marijuana money moving
around the county every year. That's the kind of money people might
want to steal.

"And drug dealers get ripped off, it's not unheard of," Minor said.
"Not a lot of them report it, though."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin