North Central Drug Task Force disbands

By Joel Stottrup

The nine-year-old North Central Drug Task Force (NCDTF) made up of the counties of Mille Lacs, Kanabec and Aitkin, plus the Mille Lacs Band’s tribal police, disbanded on Sept. 25.

The dissolving of the NCDTF came eight days after Mille Lacs County Sheriff Brent Lindgren on Sept. 17 requested and received authorization from the Mille Lacs Board of Commissioners to pull out of the task force.

By then, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) had already been informed that Kanabec County Sheriff Steve Schulz and Aitkin County Sheriff Scott Turner were looking to withdraw from the NCDTF, according to OJP public information officer Nicholas Carpenter.

With Kanabec and Aitkin counties pulling out, that did not leave enough representatives on the NCDTF’s governing board, therefore the OJP informed Lindgren’s office on Sept. 11 that the NCDTF was no longer in compliance with state law, according to Carpenter. It meant the NCDTF would no longer be able to apply for 2014 grant funding to operate if the certification requirements were not met by Nov. 1, 2013. The OJP therefore recommended disbanding the OJP, Carpenter said.

Lindgren was put on the Sept. 17 Mille Lacs County Board meeting agenda as an add-on, Lindgren explaining that it was “time sensitive” for the commissioners at that meeting to approve of Mille Lacs pulling out of the NCDTF.

NCDTF representatives then met on Sept. 25 and disbanded the NCDTF.

Carpenter said that the unspent grant funds given to the NCDTF in 2013 would be retained by the state.

Carpenter added that the OJP will be sending out requests for proposals in 2014 for the funding of violent crime enforcement teams in 2015.

Lindgren, in his talk before the Mille Lacs commissioners on Sept. 17, alluded to the opportunity to possibly be part of a violent-crimes task force.

Lindgren lists reasons

Lindgren presented a couple reasons to the commissioners for disbanding the NCDTF. One reason he gave was that the law enforcement agencies in the partnership were finding it too difficult financially to continue assigning a full time agent to the NCDTF.

The other reason Lindgren gave was a changed drug scene in the rural counties of Minnesota. When the NCDTF started, the rural area had many backyard and even some mobile labs for manufacturing methamphetamine and law enforcement shut them down, Lindgren said. In one two-county area in the early 2000s there were as many as 50 such meth labs, he said.

Also helping in the fight against the manufacturing of meth was new drug-related legislation, Lindgren said.

Congress passed a federal law in 2006 requiring that all pharmacies in the U.S. keep all drug products containing pseudoephedrine behind the counter, and only sell them in limited quantities to any one person. The law also required the buyers to identify themselves and pharmacies were required to keep those names in a log book.

Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in the manufacture of meth, a fast-addicting, and debilitating controlled drug.

Lindgren told the county board that the NCDTF was ending fiscally sound, with a spendable balance of $108,372, plus $40,193 in pending forfeitures, “as well as the upcoming forfeiture sales.”

Law enforcement are allowed to confiscate and sell certain assets of drug dealers when convicted and those sales have brought in revenue top police and sheriff’s departments.

Lindgren continued that “drug crimes are still a concern,” but added that his department will have a deputy assigned to narcotics. Also, when  times are difficult the department has mutual aid agreements to call on for combined responses to drug activities, he said.

Lindgren mentioned Mille Lacs County’s visionary process this year having identified gangs and drug education as community goals.

“This is a good time to re-evaluate and take the necessary time to set new goals and directions for the future, taking into consideration the citizens’ views of Mille Lacs County,” Lindgren said.

Aitkin County Sheriff Scott Turner said last month that his department believed in the NCDTF when Aitkin joined it four years ago but that “there is a shelf life for everything.”

He added that he thought the NCDTF “made inroads” into fighting drug problems. The use of meth and marijuana has declined in the region compared to what it was years ago, he said. Asked about the use of heroin, Turner said “we’re seeing an increase,” and that “there always seems to be a drug of choice, a cyclical thing.

“In 2004 meth was an epidemic,” he said.

Turner also said his county couldn’t afford to provide a full time agent anymore for a drug task force.

The Princeton Police Department had been part of a drug task force with the Mille Lacs Sheriff’s Department for a few years about a decade ago and then dropped out.