Pubdate: Wed, 05 Mar 2008
Source: Austin Daily Herald, The (MN)
Copyright: 2008 Austin Daily Herald Inc
Author: Mia Simpson


In Paulo Ceolho's "The Alchemist," a young man learns a  secret never 
realized beyond the realm of fantasy: How  to turn lead into gold.

While alchemy in real life failed, humankind has  mastered the 
creation of another substance, as  intoxicating, as valuable and more 


"It really is like gold dust, and injecting it or  snorting it," said 
Austin Police Detective David  McKichan, chief drug investigator for 
the department.

"You're working with something that on a  weight-to-weight basis is 
more valuable than gold," he  said.

Finding and arresting users and dealers of drugs is  McKichan's 
trade, and the fruits of his success,  created often in concert with 
county, regional and  state partners, have been prolific.

There are the statistics, which show 29 more  drug-related arrests 
from 2006 to 2007, as boasted by  Austin Police Chief Paul Philipp Monday.

Other numbers speak more: 31 pounds of cocaine, 84  pounds of 
marijuana, 451 hits of ecstasy and 1.5 ounces  of methamphetamine 
seized last year. Two to three major  drug busts resulted in six 
federal indictments.

And dissimilar crimes, such as thefts, burglaries,  rapes, assaults 
and vandalism, are down, a phenomenon  the chief and detective both 
attribute to increased  drug arrests.

"I know for a fact that it does reduce the incidents in  other 
crimes," Philipp said.

The reason: Something so treasured and craved,  particularly as 
addicts are concerned, may lead to  violence, theft, forgeries and 
burglaries in pursuit.

In addition, sound judgment often fails when one is  under the influence.

"Anytime someone's mind is altered by drugs and  alcohol, they tend 
to do things they normally wouldn't  do," McKichan said.

And finally, there's the personal and family tragedy,  lost 
employment and illness that can result from  addiction and dealing.

"It destroys the family, and then there's the addict's  parents, the 
kids and the spouses," said Austin Mayor  Tom Stiehm, a retired 
Austin Police Department  narcotics investigator of 18 years.

"It's frustrating," Stiehm said. "The police are never  going to put 
an end to drug use. It's a cultural  thing."

And knowing that means simply chipping away at access.  With limited 
resources and staff, McKichan and his  county cohort, Detective Glen 
Farnum, utilize various  strategies and partnerships to find and snag 
perpetrators, people usually "as motivated and as intelligent."

"Narcotics work is truly a hard, frustrating and  difficult 
business," Philipp said. "And really in our  area, where the rubber 
meets the road, it's about  dealing with the little guys alot."

Ninety percent of McKichan's work is focused on the  small-time 
dealer, the people that he said most affect  Austin's schools, 
families and neighborhoods.

The backbone of those investigations is patrolmen, who,  through the 
course of their daily routine, provide  tips. Then may come the 
search warrants and possibly an  arrest, which, in turn, may lead to 
a confidential  contact that is willing to realign his loyalties.

"Once they do get that arrest, then it's our time to  try to get that 
person to work with us," Philipp said.

The work is painstaking -- building contacts, writing  reports, 
observing habits -- with the intent of  building a case that can't be 
dimissed due to legal  technicalities.

"What we ultimately try to do is gather facts, and do  so in a way 
that they are presentable in a court room,"  he said.

A single drug deal won't do it in most cases, according  to Philipp. 
The rule of thumb is three, which  establishes that a business of 
sorts is occurring.

"It's complicated," McKichan said. "There's just a lot  of ways to 
deal with someone selling narcotics."

And with the unpredictable likely, including violent  behavior, a 
chase and weapons, McKichan said safety is  paramount.

"We try to minimize risk, and do things that will make  things 
preventable," he said.

The detective said most of his big cases this past year  resulted for 
inter-agency cooperation with entities,  including the Southeast 
Minnesota Drug Task Force,  Rochester Police Department, the Bureau 
of Criminal  Apprehension and Drug Enforcement Administration.

"The reason we have been so successful - I don't think  it has 
anything to do with the work I'm doing,"  McKichan said. "It's been 
the work that all the other  agencies have done."

Such as last August, when county and regional agencies  executed a 
series of search warrants at three homes and  downtown business that 
led to arrests of five men, whom  were ultimately convicted in U.S. 
District Court for  dealing cocaine.

And December, when a 22-year-old, his girlfriend and  three others 
were charged with drug sales, in what was  the biggest drug find in 
Austin after partnering  agencies found 24 pounds of cocaine in a 
unit at  Mandolin Apartments in Austin after a year of investigations.

"As interesting as those cases are, hopefully when you  take the 
bigger guy down, all the little guys dry up,"  he said.

The convictions that may follow are designed to affect  different 
defendants in different ways. First-time  offenders are given a 
second changes in a majority of  cases, in hopes that their arrest 
and trouble will  serve as a wake-up call.

"There are certainly people who should be taken out of  society," 
McKichan said. "But it's also not good to  have a revolving door, and 
not try to change the people  who are using."

Again, all with the intention of making Austin a better  place to live.

"This is making our area a more attractive place, a  place where you 
want to get married and want to have  kids," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom