Pubdate: Sun, 09 Oct 2005
Source: Chillicothe Gazette (OH)
Copyright: 2005 Chillicothe Gazette
Author: Lisa Roberson


Whirling police lights and sirens highlighted a rainy Friday night as
officers from the Chillicothe Police Department hit the streets in
search of drugs.

Hidden in plain sight in police cruisers, the officers assigned to do
drug interdiction waited for the telltale signs. And, like most
nights, it was not long before they found what they were looking for -
the driver of a car with out-of-town plates stopped near South Walnut
and West Fifth streets to talk very quickly with a man police say was
a convicted drug dealer.

That by itself did not warrant the police to stop the men. However, by
being patient, an opportunity came moments later. After committing
several traffic violations between his first location and West Main
Street, officers conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle.

Moments later, the driver was out of his car and a drug sniffing dog
belonging to the State Highway Patrol was walking toward the vehicle.

The driver was fidgety. Officers were calm.

The driver looked as if he wanted to bolt.

Officers calmly told him to stay still.

He was not in handcuffs, and at that moment, he was not even under

But, what a difference a few minutes will make during a typical night
doing drug interdiction.

The officers' first suspicions were right. The man from Columbus had
more than 35 grams of crack cocaine in his car wrapped in a small
plastic baggy, as well as a small amount of powdered cocaine in the
bottom of a fast food cup.

The bust is enough to warrant felony drug charges and a trip to the
Ross County Jail.

Waging war In the never-ending war on drugs, the Chillicothe Police
Department, along with the Ross County Sheriff's Office and the U.S.
23 Major Crimes Task Force, are turning up the heat on drug users and
drug sellers. And like an army's infantry, these officers are taking
to the streets to attack the problem head-on.

With the recent approval of $20,000 from Chillicothe City Council,
Capt. Thomas Hewitt said the department is stepping up drug
interdictions - scheduled periods in which off-duty officers work
overtime hours in high drug areas looking for drug activity.

These men are not used for road patrol or to answer random calls, but
focus solely on rooting out drugs at every level.

"That is their primary mission," Hewitt said. "They are not out there
to answer barking dog or domestic dispute calls."

It's a must, Hewitt said, if law enforcement ever wants to beat the
drug problem into submission.

The worst keep secret The drug problem in Chillicothe and Ross County
is no secret.

But how big the problem is and where it seems to gravitate still may
be a mystery to some.

Chillicothe, considered by many to be a typical small rural city, is
actually a service hub for drug activity, said Sheriff Ron Nichols. It
is centrally located to other south central Ohio counties and is
easily accessible by several main routes, including U.S. 23, U.S. 50,
U.S. 35 and Ohio 104.

These routes give drug suppliers a direct line of travel to
Chillicothe from larger cities such as Columbus, Cincinnati and
Dayton. Once drugs make their way into Chillicothe, the possibility
for their distribution is endless.

"People should know it is not necessarily centralized to one part of
the city," said Joe Shields, of Water Street. "It exists to different
degrees in different parts of the city."

As a husband, father and homeowner, Jim Bennett, 50, said he has more
than a vested interest in seeing a change in Chillicothe when it comes
to drugs. Within the confines of his Caldwell Street home, Bennett
said he tries to be naive to the drug problem in his neighborhood, but
also knows it lurks - and not always in the darkness.

"I think it's more prominent than people realize," Bennett said. "It's
definitely more prominent than I want to believe.

"It's not the stereotypical thug that is selling or using drugs,"
Bennett added. "It's a lot more common than we know. People who you
would never suspect are selling and using drugs. That's what makes it
so hard for the police and the task force. They are up against people
who no one would ever suspect of being involved in drugs."

A disheartening example for Bennett can be found in his own
neighborhood, where he said he suspects a home that looks like any
other is a haven for those seeking illegal prescription drugs.

"But, I'm not really shocked," Bennett said. "I just know I have to do
something about it."

Time to tattle Knowing drugs are out there but failing to notify the
proper authorities does nothing to solve the problem. Residents must
report what they see, Shields said.

At 48, Shields is a member of the Poland Park Crime Watch and a
council member for the Chillicothe Neighborhood Watch Corp.

"Any little bit of information collected and added to another little
bit of information will eventually become a big piece of information,"
he added. "By taking all the little bits to the police, maybe they can
put this thing to bed."

Although he can fortunately say he has never dealt with drugs
personally, Shields has witnessed drug transactions in the city and
has promptly turned over every tidbit of information to law

It's his way of letting law enforcement know he believes what is being
done is a step in the right direction.

"By letting (investigations) take time to unfold and develop in a way
in which cases can be made, the police department, sheriff's
department and task force are doing exactly what it takes to get an
end result," Shields said.

A snail's pace Slow and steady is the only pace in this game, Nichols

"You control the problem by trying to control the flow of the
product," he added. "People want us to get the nickel-and-dimers who
are out smoking marijuana, but to make significant progress, you have
to cut the head off the monster."

This is done in a number of time-consuming ways, most of which begin
with a phone call to police. Each bit of information is either routed
to an investigator or placed in a database for later access. Sometimes
an address coupled with a license place number is all that is needed
to open a case, Nichols said.

Once a case is opened, undercover agents can begin watching a
suspected drug house, recording the comings and goings, documenting
any repeat or suspicious people and making connections to buy drugs.

This is all called "gaining probable cause."

Without it, a judge never will sign off on a search warrant, Nichols

"I understand the people's frustration, but we can't tell people what
we are doing because of the sensitivity of these investigations,"
Nichols said. "I wish we could, because people could see we are not
just ignoring the problem from drug bust to drug bust."

Lt. Randy Sanders, commander of the task force, said agents are
constantly working a major case while still doing the day-to-day
smaller cases residents want to see closed immediately. However, with
12 officers, eight of which are part-time, and a coverage area of
eight counties, the work is hard.

"Right now, we are at a good and bad point," Sanders said. "The good
is that the community is really getting involved and we are getting a
lot of calls, but the bad point is we are at the point where we don't
have enough people to keep up with the flow of information."

One battle won Whether drug interdictions are successful is sometimes
hit and miss.

"We don't usually get the big drug dealers," Hewitt said. "Those are
by luck or reserved for the task force. The task force is a tool all
area agencies use to go after bigger fish. We work hand-in-hand.
Information we receive goes to the task force, and the task force
will, in turn, let us know about possible drug houses when they can."

Drug interdictions are, however, successful at finding low-level
criminals, Hewitt said. These are the ones who generate the most calls
from residents who want the marijuana smokers off street corners and
the addicts looking to score out of city parks.

And while Friday night's bust was not a kilo or shipment indicative of
a full functioning drug cartel, it was a good bust, said Officer John

"This is still a lot of drugs," he said. 
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