Pubdate: Thu, 12 May 2005
Source: Des Moines Register (IA)
Section: Crime/Courts
Copyright: 2005 The Des Moines Register.
Author: Jennifer Jacobs and Tom Alex, Staff Writers Related:
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Drug dealers like to do business in hotels and motels, so police say they 
have little choice but to do stings there - despite the dangers to innocent 
hotel guests.

"Truthfully and sadly for hotels, they are unfortunately recognized as the 
place to do drug deals with a certain comfort level," Lt. Tom Trimble, 
commander of the Des Moines police vice and narcotics unit, said Wednesday. 
"Dope dealers love hotels."

Undercover agents did not warn hotel employees or guests booked in more 
than 20 other rooms at the Heartland Inn Airport prior to Tuesday's drug 
sting, which ended with gunfire in a hallway, stairwell and parking lot.

At least one bullet ended up in a room occupied by a guest unconnected with 
the drug deal.

Police said Wednesday they will continue to use hotel and motel rooms in 
the war against drugs.

"It's no different than setting up on the streets, or doing traffic stops 
or raiding an apartment building," Des Moines Police Chief William McCarthy 
said. "We come to these with an abundance of training. We try to maximize 
safety, and if it's too risky, we will back away. But we cannot offer any 

Officers worried Wednesday that hotel managers will be skittish about 
booking rooms for police, but several people in the hotel industry said 
they will continue to cooperate with authorities.

Linda Saron, manager at the hotel where Tuesday's shooting took place, 
said, "Obviously we will do whatever we can to keep the community safe and 
to keep our hotel safe."

The executive vice president of the Iowa Lodging Association, Craig Walter, 
said he hopes hotel managers don't try to shut out police stings.

"Police need to be doing this if we're going to be curtailing the drug 
activity we have going on," Walter said. "If the criminals know we're 
working with police, they are more reluctant to use those properties."

Hotel manager Charlie Patel, who runs the Rodeway Inn on Douglas Avenue, 
said he would not be upset with police if a drug sting ended in violence at 
his hotel.

"It's a sad thing, but sometimes you have to deal with those things," Patel 
said. "It's part of life and part of business.

"I feel sorry for the cops."

Police said criminals like the neutrality, anonymity and privacy of hotels. 
They can pay cash, lie about their names, do surveillance from their room 
before the deal, and disappear afterward with no snooping neighbors to 
worry about.

"I don't have a number for you, but I can tell you we go to hotels and 
motels throughout the city quite frequently," said Sgt. Larry Davey of the 
Des Moines vice and narcotics unit.

There's usually no way to discreetly ask nearby hotel guests to leave or to 
alert employees before a sting because the suspects could be tipped off, 
said Trimble.

"The least information we share, the least amount of danger we're in," he said.

To keep gunfire from breaking out, officers try to overwhelm suspects with 

"We want to surround them with 10 police officers so they think, 'My chance 
of getting away is zero.' We want them to immediately realize it's hopeless 
and just give up," Trimble said.

Trimble said the officers' primary concern always is the safety of citizens 
and fellow officers.

"But there's always an outside chance that if someone involved in this goes 
crazy, like these two guys did, we have little control over what they do," 
he said.

Police will analyze Tuesday's incident "second by second and see if there's 
anything we could've done differently," Trimble said. "There's nothing 
glaring at this point."

 From the 1980s until about two years ago, Des Moines police had a squad 
dedicated to drug busts at hotels and motels. The squad still is intact, 
but "in a greatly reduced fashion," Trimble said. He added that he has not 
seen an increase in hotel drug activity since the squad was scaled back.

A police probe in Altoona in 2000 provided an example of what police find 
in motels and hotels. During a three-day period at two hotels, nine people 
were arrested on various charges, including drug, forgery and child 
endangerment charges.

One of the most serious hotel crimes was in 1995 when an Urbandale police 
officer was shot in the abdomen by a methamphetamine user in the lobby of a 
hotel near Merle Hay Road.
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