BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Since Jan. 26, a mere 38 days, the county drug task force has processed 25 arrests on drug-related charges in the area, including five this week.
Keokuk Assistant Police Chief Jay Whitaker, who serves as commander of the Lee County Narcotics Task Force said there really hasn’t been a ratcheting up of efforts, but more of things just falling into place.
“These things ebb and flow. As far as an uptick in arrests, it’s just the way things have fallen into place,” Whitaker said.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber, a four-year veteran of the task force said this is all an accumulation of investigations.
“That’s what happens when intel flows in. Sometimes it seems like nothing is going on, but these guys are out there working leads and doing buys,” Weber said. “Jay’s doing a good job and the investigators are doing a good job and we’re getting after it. We we want to support them with a dog as soon as we can.”
Whitaker said he’s worked with Weber in the past and that relationship helps because they both understand the process and there’s not a lot of pressure. Factor in a new county attorney, a new sheriff and Whitaker who’s only been in place since December said people might get the impressions that the new law enforcement is increasing pressure on drug usage in the area.
“The investigators have several different investigations going on at one time. Sometimes you have where a half a dozen come together at the same time. You can also have times where you have one or two that come together and those lead to other people and arrests come out of those arrests.”
But Whitaker said there have been times since he’s taken over, where he sits at his desk and goes through notes, surveillance documents and what he gets from the investigators and you wonder what’s going on, because nothing seems to be falling into place.
“Without being able to create probable cause you can’t get momentum during those times,” he said.
“The sheriff and county attorney are very supportive,” he said. “Also they all know each other and they know the investigators and work close with them. The sheriff understands, and he worked in that office for years and he understands you have to allow those investigation to have the freedom to do their work.”
Lee County had been a hot bed for home-cooked methamphetamine, but what he’s seeing now is an abuse of prescription medication.
He said that meth use isn’t what it was 10 years ago when locals were cooking batches, but now it’s crystal meth and it’s being brought into the area.
“Before I became commander of the task force, we thought there was a huge problem with abuse of prescription meds. And now that I’m in that place, I’m correct.”
It’s not uncommon, he said for people who get addicted to pain medication and other prescriptions to move to heroin as a cheaper, more accessible street drug.
“That’s sad, it truly is. The first time I became aware of it, when it really started opening my eyes was during the primary when Chris Christie spoke about his friend that lost everything because of prescription meds. It really opened my eyes to going in for a simple surgery and – boom – a year later you could be in a downward spiral,” Whitaker said.
The LCNTF consists of investigators from all three main law enforcement agencies including Lee County Sheriff’s Dept, Keokuk Police Department and the Fort Madison Police Department. The Lee County Attorney’s office oversees the group and there’s a control board consisting of the Keokuk and Fort Madison chiefs of police Dave Hinton and Tim Sittig, Weber, and a representative with state Department of Narcotics Enforcement. Each entity participates in helping with the budget by providing the officers and deputies, and some grant funding rounds out the budget for the group.
Whitaker said grants have decreased over the past 10 to 15 years but the local governments are pretty good at helping make up the difference.