Shakeup Alters Focus of Cape Drug Fighters

Shakeup Alters Focus of Cape Drug Fighters
Posted by FoM on December 04, 2001 at 11:25:18 PT
By Karen Jeffrey, Staff Writer
Source: Cape Cod Times
A 19-year partnership of federal, state, county and local drug investigators has come to an end. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration is dismantling what has long been called the Cape Cod Drug Task Force.In its place, federal drug enforcement officials have invited state and local police departments to join a new reorganized task force.
As part of that reorganization, last month, DEA officials changed locks on the door to the task force office and told state and local police officers assigned to the task force that they are not allowed in the office - where records and evidence of ongoing investigations are stored - unless a Drug Enforcement Administration agent or employee is present.As a result, yesterday state and local police, some of whom were longtime members of the task force, worked out of their cruisers because no one from the DEA was in the Cape office.The answer to why the office is being reorganized is not clear because DEA officials have declined to comment.But the reorganized task force the federal agency plans to create is an investigative unit focused on long-term investigations that target high- level narcotics dealers - according to letters sent from the DEA to local police chiefs, the sheriff's department and the Cape and Islands district attorney.The shift away from investigating mid- and street-level drug dealers is a puzzle to many law enforcement officers on the Cape, especially since the DEA supported those kinds of cases for more than decade.Since it began, the drug task force has made 1,518 arrests, seized $2.28 million in cash and $15.5 million in assets - money and property that was split between participating police departments. In addition, the task force has seized 492 guns since 1982.No one from the agency's Boston headquarters returned telephone calls made by the Cape Cod Times last week and yesterday. DEA staff assigned to the Cape and islands are not allowed to speak to the media.A spokesman from the agency's Washington, D.C., office said he is unaware of any national reorganization of regional drug task forces. Meeting planned tomorrow  Cape police chiefs, the Barnstable County sheriff and the Cape and Islands district attorney are scheduled to meet with representatives of the DEA tomorrow to discuss the reorganized task force.There is no question in anybody's mind that state and local police will continue to investigate street- and mid-level drug dealers on the Cape, said District Attorney Philip A. Rollins.Rollins described the DEA's focus on national and international drug organizations as "laudable," but pointed out that small drug dealers often provide police the first rung on the ladder going up to the bigger dealers."The bottom line is, as long as there is illegal drug activity on the Cape, there will be interdiction. No one is going to abandon local drug investigations," he said. Many in Cape law enforcement say that for two decades these varied police agencies have enjoyed a productive relationship with the DEA. Since its inception, the task force has involved federal, state and local police as part of an investigative unit focused on the illegal drug trade on Cape Cod. Since 1987, DEA has paid rent for office space and provided office furniture, supplies and a secretary.Cape police chiefs described the drug task force as serving, in many ways, as a central clearing house for local departments doing their own investigations. Police from many departments routinely attended weekly task force briefing sessions. Credentials not reissued  In addition to changing the office locks last month, state, county and local police assigned to the task force were asked to return their federal credentials issued by the DEA.There are anywhere from 30 to 40 ongoing investigations involving the state, local and county police assigned to the former drug task force. According to state police Detective Lt. John Allen, who supervised state and local task force officers, all reports and evidence from these cases will remain in DEA custody.When and if these cases go to trial, DEA will be requested to return the evidence to state or local police, he said. DEA invites police to a new unit In October, DEA officials announced the changes in letters sent to some but not all of the 16 police departments on the Cape as well as to the Plymouth Police Department and state police. They invited them to participate in a newly reorganized task force.DEA specifically requested only state troopers, not state police officers of rank, would be welcomed. The original drug task force has always included officers of rank.This request would mean that state police Detective Lt. Allen and Lt. Robert Melia, who have both been with the task force since the early 1980s, are not invited back.Because DEA officials will not comment about the reorganization, it is unclear why they don't want experienced officers like Melia and Allen on the task force.Bourne Police Chief John Ford describes Allen and Melia as "above reproach. They have the knowledge and experience that makes them natural for a task force." Changing strategy According to the letters of invitations sent by the DEA, the new task force will focus on regional, national and international drug organizations that have an impact on local areas. The chiefs were asked to respond by Nov. 30. To date, only one has committed to sending an officer full-time to this unit, according to sources.Barnstable police Chief John Finnegan said one of his officers will be assigned full-time to the newly reorganized task force while other detectives within the department will concentrate on local cases."I don't see that there's really any change taking place with the task force except for change in personnel," Finnegan said.Other police chiefs, however, are saying they will make no decisions until DEA officials make a presentation at the monthly meeting of the chiefs' association tomorrow. "My biggest concern is taking care of the town of Yarmouth," said Yarmouth Chief Peter Carnes. "We'll listen to what the DEA has to say."A DEA agent, newly assigned to the Cape, has been invited to lay out its new plans, said Wellfleet Chief Richard Rosenthal, president of the Cape chief's association."We are not making decisions or commitments until we hear what everyone has to say," Rosenthal said. "The questions we have about any task force are: Who is in it? Who controls it?" Two decades fighting drugs If local drug investigations will continue, with or without DEA involvement, why then should anyone care about a reorganized drug task force?The answer lies in part, in the origins of this task force."The feds come to the table with money," said Sandwich Police Chief Michael Miller. "They always have. Small departments don't always have the funds for drug buys. Small departments don't always have the budget to assign one officer to narcotics investigations."The original Cape Cod Drug Task Force began in the early 1980s when drug dealers smuggled marijuana onto the Cape by the shipload. Deep water harbors, miles of virtually unpatroled coastline and small town police departments made the Cape an attractive target for the narcotics entrepreneur.From the early 1980s through the middle of that decade, boatload after boatload of marijuana was seized on the Cape. One of the largest was a 20-ton load discovered by the Coast Guard aboard a fishing vessel just off Provincetown. "It was five tons here, 13 tons there with a lot of those early investigations" said Miller. "It didn't take long for police chiefs to recognize the problem was much bigger than any one department." Police chiefs decided to create a coalition of departments that would work together Capewide investigating drug cases, Miller said.It also gave them access to larger amounts of money for undercover drugs buys.The first formal Cape Cod Drug Task Force was formed in 1982 under the purview of Rollins. DEA assigned one agent to work with one state police officer and several municipal officers. They worked out of a small cramped office on the second floor of the county communications building.The main thrust of this nascent drug force was marijuana. DEA picks up the tab In 1987 DEA officials agreed to pick up the lion's share of the bill for the drug task force office. DEA paid for office rental, telephones, supplies and up to $9,000 in overtime a year for each municipal officer assigned to the task force.Those departments that could afford to, sent officers to work full-time on the task force. Sandwich, Bourne and Barnstable routinely sent officers to the task force full-time. Falmouth and Yarmouth have sent officers there on an intermittent basis, depending upon what their departmental budgets could afford.Other departments assigned drug investigators on a part-time basis or not at all. But even those departments with no officer assigned to the task force have used the services of the organization, according to Ford. "They are there as a source of information, expertise and extra police officers when you need them.""Our department is too small to send anyone to the task force, but we've relied on them in many instances," said Orleans Chief William Stone."We've sent an officer to the weekly meetings and in some cases, the task force has come down here to help us out in an investigation," Stone said.Change in drug culture As the 1980s progressed, the drug culture on the Cape changed, and with it came a change in the kind of cases the task force pursued.Big marijuana landings became a thing of the past, and cocaine moved to the forefront of the illegal drug trade. Instead of one or two big drug arrivals, cocaine, heroin and other drugs began arriving on the Cape through a multiplicity of mid-level dealers with contacts in more urban areas, according to Ford. With this change came a change in the task force focus, he said.By 1999, the task force had grown to include at least two state police officers and three troopers, five municipal officers and two sheriff's deputies. In 1999, the DEA singled out the Cape Cod Drug Task Force for the Administrator's Award, the highest honor given by this federal agency.That same year, Rollins was invited to New Bedford to discuss the Cape Cod Drug Task Force as a potential model for local involvement with Bristol County Task Force - one that currently exits.According to sources in New Bedford, that task force will continue to do street- and mid-level buys along with higher level investigations and there are no plans to change that.In 2000, the U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan in Boston recognized the task force for its work on a federal-level case. The investigation resulted in the convictions of several people involved in a Cape cocaine ring. One of those convicted was State Police Sgt. Richard Corey, a detective who worked out of the South Yarmouth barracks and for providing Cape drug dealers with sensitive information about investigations. "Local knowledge is always the foundation of a good drug investigation," said Rollins. "That's what members of the drug task force have always brought to the table."Note: A reorganized task force under DEA control will target major dealers while local police watch street-level activity.Source: Cape Cod Times (MA)Author: Karen Jeffrey, Staff WriterPublished: December 4, 2001Copyright: 2001 Cape Cod TimesContact: letters capecodonline.comWebsite: Articles:CannabisNews DEA Archives Efforts Mean Changes for DEA Resources Are Stretched Thin
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Comment #2 posted by Xanaralk on December 04, 2001 at 13:56:04 PT
Change in drug culture 
"Big marijuana landings became a thing of the past, and cocaine moved to the forefront of the illegal drug trade. Instead of one or two big drug arrivals, cocaine, heroin and other drugs began arriving on the Cape "Thank you good Task Force ... You did a great job chasing big bad marijuana ! Cape citizens sure are better off now than if you wouldn't have been there ! The DEA can now solve the problems you created and create new ones also ! How Fun !
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Comment #1 posted by Dark Star on December 04, 2001 at 12:50:06 PT
"Small departments don't always have the funds for drug buys."In other words, the local authorities will no longer be able to break laws to arrest people doing the same thing.
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