Pubdate: Mon, 02 Jan 2017
Source: Blade, The (Toledo, OH)
Copyright: 2017 The Blade


Trooper Mike Wilson of the Ohio Highway Patrol leads his canine partner,
Pluto, past a truck on I-70 in Madison County. Last year, Ohio registered
a record 3,050 overdose deaths, with many attributed to painkillers and
heroin abuse.

Lt. Robert Sellers said state troopers' first job is to protect the
public. Last year, troopers recovered 156 pounds of heroin and record
amounts of painkillers and methamphetamines.

COLUMBUS - The Ohio Highway Patrol says the agency's new anti-drug
emphasis is paying off with record seizures of heroin, opiates, and other
illegal substances.

Troopers confiscated 156 pounds of heroin in 2016, a 290 percent increase
from 2015, along with record amounts of illegal painkillers and

The agency is building on a plan developed in 2011 to bring troopers into
the state's efforts to reduce Ohio's addictions epidemic, Patrol Lt.
Robert Sellers said.

"Our No. 1 job is to protect the public," Lieutenant Sellers said. "It's
to preserve life, and especially with the drug epidemic to stop the drugs
wreaking havoc on our communities and neighborhoods."

Last year, Ohio had a record 3,050 overdose deaths, a 20 percent increase,
with many of those attributed to painkillers and heroin abuse.

The patrol has doubled the number of drug-sniffing dogs to 34 statewide
and now trains every trooper in techniques for locating illegal drugs.

Troopers are told "to look beyond the license plate" during traffic stops
for signs of criminal activity.

The agency has elevated the search for crime along highways to the same
level as traffic safety, Lieutenant Sellers said.

A couple of days past Christmas, patrol Sgt. Kurt Beidelschies kept a
watchful eye on drivers headed west on I-70 on the west side of Columbus.

Most drivers react the same way to seeing a trooper parked in a highway
median, Sergeant Beidelschies said: they look over, tap their brakes and
then check their mirrors to see what the trooper does next.

What he looks for is what he called "the 1 percent of drivers that do
something different."

That includes a sudden lane change upon spying the trooper or, upon being
pulled over, continue to appear nervous even if they receive only a

Sergeant Beidelschies and fellow troopers investigated two truck drivers
that day after a drug-sniffing dog "alerted" to the presence of drugs. But
nothing was found other than inconsistent driving logs.

The challenge is dealing with the obvious influx of drugs that's fueling
the addictions epidemic, Sergeant Beidelschies said.

"So it is just going out every day doing your job to the best of your
ability and trying your best to make your communities a safer place," he

The efforts haven't been without hiccups.

In May, a Lorain County judge suppressed as evidence more than 200 pounds
of marijuana seized by troopers from a motorist along the Ohio Turnpike.

Judge John Miraldi said he was struck that half of a two-trooper team's
seizure of drugs in the last 12 months involved drugs found in cars with
out-of-state plates.

"These facts alone present concerns to this court that perhaps this 'team'
so charged and so successful, may be using traffic stops as a pretext for
searches and seizures," Judge Miraldi wrote. The prosecutor appealed with
a decision pending.

Defense attorney Ian Friedman, representing the defendant in the case,
calls the patrol's efforts well-intended but subject to overreaching.

"We really see it with baseless stops that are nothing more than a pretext
to have the vehicles and occupants searched for drugs," Mr. Friedman said.

Lieutenant Sellers said the patrol's efforts - which have become a
national model for other agencies - will continue and that even more
drug-sniffing dogs will be added, with plans for a permanent police-dog
training facility.

"We know we're not getting it all," the lieutenant said. "But we've done
everything we can to get everything we can find."
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