Pubdate: Wed, 13 Sep 2006
Source: Bellevue Leader (NE)
Copyright: 2006 Suburban Newspapers Inc.
Author: Jason Buzzell, Leader staff writer
Note: This is the first installment of a three-part series by the Bellevue 
Leader exploring the darkness and hope of the drug problems in Bellevue.


When people think of drugs, they often picture dirty urban back alleys 
lined with grizzled-looking junkies and shady-looking dope dealers. We 
imagine grimy and grid-locked New York roadways.

We think of the gangs and violence in and around Los Angeles. But what we 
often don't hear about are the drug problems we have right here in our 
hometown. The guy at the bowling alley who's addicted to meth or alcohol. 
Teens exchanging drugs at parties. A suburban police force fighting an 
uphill battle. Drugs aren't just in those bad neighborhoods or dirty alleys 
in remote areas.

They are right next door. Maybe even inside our homes.

In previous years, police arrested the violators and attorneys tried to 
prosecute them. The goal was to get them off the streets and behind bars. 
Drug arrests - mostly meth and marijuana - continued to soar. Police and 
county officials were forced to try and take a slightly new approach.

"There's a lot more people who we run across every day on the streets we 
arrest for possession of meth as opposed to possession of cocaine or 
crack," said Lt. Bob Wood of the Bellevue Police Department. "We see that, 
but not very often. Meth we see all the time. Pure numbers we arrest more 
people for marijuana than meth, but obviously meth is a much more serious 
drug that causes a lot more serious problems."

High schoolers, college kids, a mom or dad, a granddad in some cases - no 
stereotype or generation is immune from illegal drugs in Bellevue, Wood 
said. Circles of friends often exchange drugs. Someone might know a dealer 
or a friend of a friend. It's tough to stop something that is going on 
behind closed doors. And the effects of a drug such as meth have on people 
spins off quickly to other crimes that are far from hidden.

"Meth is our worst nightmare for criminals," said Police Chief John Stacey. 
"It's everywhere. We've got a theft report at Menards, someone is stealing 
IDs, someone is writing false checks. It all comes back to meth."

The courts are clogged. Arrests keep rising.

That's why Sarpy County has begun a drug court for non-violent drug 
offenses. Offenders can avoid jail time if they follow a very strict set of 
guidelines laid out for them. It will take a few years to see if this 
post-plea system is successful.

"We're pretty confident in the system the way it is set up that will be 
successful, it might just be some tinkering with it," said deputy Sarpy 
County attorney Jason Caul. "For this area it's probably progressive. It's 
definitely new for our county, but it has been in the works for quite a 
while in other places."

Bellevue police have also tried to give direction to drug users on where to 
go for treatment. Less than five years ago, if a person wanted information 
on where to go for help, police didn't really know, Wood said. Using a 
grant, the department produced a pamphlet with advice on where to head for 

"That's the tough thing for us is people call up and ask what kind of 
treatment options there are, and before we made that pamphlet, we didn't 
know because that's not really our job," Wood said. "That's the courts' 
job, but people would call all the time asking us."

Very few dealers are making money from meth sales in Bellevue because most 
dealers are users, too, Wood said. You won't see a dealer on the corner of 
Mission Avenue or Galvin Road, but they are out there in the community, 
sometimes linked with a supply grown in the rural areas of Nebraska and 
Iowa. Most times, however, tapping a cheaper supply from Mexico and California.

Many that use the drug dabble in smaller theft and forgery crimes, but 
those who are deeply addicted become paranoid and possibly violent. A 
murder last July was connected to meth. Two years ago, the SWAT team was 
involved in a shooting that involved a meth-related crime, Wood said. Three 
years before that police had to subdue a man who had been doing cocaine and 

"They get all worried the police are going to get them or that their 
friends are going to steal their dope," Wood said. "Meth just has that 
effect where it makes people paranoid and aggressive."

The answer to solving an escalating drug situation in the suburbs still 
remains murky. It's not known whether offering help and using probation 
rather than a lock-them-up approach will work. Already this year, meth 
arrests were down 38 percent, but in just the last two weeks police have 
made drug busts and arrested several people on possession of meth.

"It's pretty standard to see these people again and again, some more than 
others," Wood said. "It gets somewhat frustrating, but that's just part of 
the game until someone figures out a real effective way to get people off I don't know what the answers are to fixing the problem."
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