Drugs prompt thieveryYou don’t have to search through Douglas County Circuit Court records for long to see a connection between drugs and property crime.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
You don’t have to search through Douglas County Circuit Court records for long to see a connection between drugs and property crime. From convenience store robberies and home invasion burglaries to copper thefts and car prowling, a large number of cases are directly linked to drug use.
The cause of a recent home invasion incident in Poplar, according to the criminal complaint, was the need to fuel a drug habit. One of two suspects in a series of Superior convenience store robberies is also facing a separate possession of heroin charge. A rash of Wisconsin Point car thefts last year was linked to drug use, according to Superior Police Department Deputy Chief Nick Alexander.
To understand the need fueling these crimes, consider the cost to feed a moderate to heavy heroin addiction can run close to $200 a day.
By the numbers
Court numbers show a steady increase in property crime cases — the number of burglary cases doubled in the last two years, from 24 in 2010 to 49 in 2012. And that doesn’t address how many actual victims there were. A few recent Douglas County cases included 12 counts of burglary as well as theft charges.
According to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, burglaries over the past five years peaked in 2011 at 195, with 145 reported last year. Theft reports in the county have risen from 101 in 2008 to 147 in 2012.
“We certainly saw an increase in those the past two years,” said Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec. He said part of that is due to the economy, part to drug and alcohol abuse.
City numbers are less linear. Both burglaries and thefts peeked in 2010, with 302 burglary reports and 1,336 theft reports. But they remained high throughout the last five years along with robberies — 25 reported last year, 27 in 2008.
Criminal drug cases have also gone up and down over the years. In 2005, they reached a nine-year high of 443 fueled in part by a high number of meth (59) and marijuana (163) cases. Last year there were 286 criminal drug cases filed, including 25 dealing with synthetic marijuana and 10 for heroin.
In the first three months of 2013, 38 percent of all felony cases filed were based in part or entirely on illegal drugs. That includes 10 heroin, six cocaine, eight amphetamine, four meth and six marijuana cases as well as one prescription drug case. To put that in perspective, only five felony operating while intoxicated cases have been filed in that same time frame. In addition, seven burglary cases, six theft cases, four robbery cases and one forgery case have been filed in 2013 to date based on online felony court records.
Filling the vacuum
“Our narcotics officers are busier than I’ve ever seen them,” said Alexander. Targeted enforcement and cooperation among local agencies led to an area-wide prescription drug bust in 2011. The “Pills in a Box” operation led to the indictment of 27 people in the Twin Ports area.
“Some of the main players, however, were right here in Superior,” said Superior Police Officer Timothy Monte when he was honored for his drug enforcement work by the Superior Elks Club in October. The two main distributors of the prescription narcotic Opana, he said, were based in Superior. That was followed by “Operation Brownstone” in 2012. That sting netted arrests of more than 25 people in the area involved in distributing heroin. In Superior, a single arrest led to the recovery of nearly $40,000 worth of heroin.
Enforcement isn’t a silver bullet. As soon as distribution of one drug is hampered, another rushes in to fill that vacuum, Alexander said. The problem is rooted in chemistry and economics. Because cities like Superior are so far north, Alexander said, dealers can sell drugs for more here. And people in the grip of a moderate to heavy narcotics addiction can spend about $200 a day on their habit, he said.
Opiate drugs like Opana cause powerful addictions, the type methadone clinics were created to help treat, Alexander said. When “Pills in a Box” curtailed the local prescription drug trade, drugs like heroin took their place.
“My impression is heroin is a big problem out there,” said Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank. He said drug trafficking also affects the friends or girlfriends of dealers who provide a residence from which they deal drugs.
“Lives are getting changed,” he said.
Sometimes, drug use can kill. Over the last five years, 23 people have died of drug overdoses in Douglas County, according to Medical Examiner Darrell Witt. The majority of them were caused by prescription drug abuse.
“Every year we’ve had overdose deaths,” he said. He encouraged everyone to make use of the drug drop-off box in the Government Center. People can drop any unused prescription or over-the-counter drugs in the green box, which rests in a corner of the Superior police and Douglas County Sheriff’s office lobby.
“We’ve got to get them off the street,” Witt said.
As law enforcement wages war on drugs, residents can protect themselves from the recent wave of property crime.
“Car prowling is a big issue,” Blank said. “Lock everything at all times.”
Don’t leave valuables visible in cars, Alexander said. If prowlers don’t see anything to steal, they are not likely to break in. Parking in well-lit areas can also discourage thieves.
Homeowners can install motion sensor lights to deter thieves and burglars.
“Motion lights are good because they startle people,” Alexander said. People should also keep their homes and garages locked. Notify neighbors to keep an eye on your home when you’re out of town and have a friend or family member stop by to pick up the mail and shovel the sidewalk, Alexander said. Having lights that go on and off inside the residence can also help deter thieves.
“People can certainly call us, the sheriff’s office, and say they’ll be out of town for a period of time,” Dalbec said. The department can have deputies drive by the residence and keep an eye on it.
One of the most important things people can do is report anything out of the ordinary they see.
“Call if you see anything suspicious,” Dalbec said, like a vehicle driving by, slowing down and checking things out. Call 911 with a description of the vehicle, people driving and license plate.
If you hear a crash of a window breaking in the night, Blank said, make that call to law enforcement.
“There’s no harm if it’s nothing,” Alexander said, encouraging people not to hesitate to call 911.
“We’re all in this together,” Blank said.
The bottom line linking drug addiction and property crime is in what law enforcement officers see.
“People are stealing because they have some sort of need,” Alexander said. They could need food or clothing, he said, but “we are not arresting those types of people.”