by Dennis Dalman
The good news is meth labs in Central Minnesota are now rarities, but the bad news is meth and heroin continue to be “drugs of choice” for all too many “recreational” users, who can quickly become addicts.
That’s according to John Lester, who spoke at the 10th annual “Cookout with Cops” Aug. 23 at the St. Francis Xavier Gathering Place. Lester, who is a member of the Central Minnesota Violent Offenders Task Force, is among several who spoke to an audience of nearly 300 people who attended the picnic dinner hosted free for senior citizens by the Sartell Police Department. Other speakers were a member of Gold Cross Ambulance and a K-9 police officer from St. Cloud.
The following story is based on Lester’s comments at Cookout with Cops and a follow-up interview with Lester by the Sartell Newsleader.
Meth labs, which used to be found frequently by law enforcement, are practically a thing of the past, but – again – the bad news is meth is readily available from distributors in other cities and/or other countries, such as meth smuggled into the United States by members of drug cartels in Mexico, Lester noted.
Another current drug abuse concern in Central Minnesota, as in many other places nationwide, is the scourge of opioid (painkiller) addiction. People can get “hooked” easily on prescription opioids. And then they soon learn when their line dries up that they can get high on heroin, which is often more freely available via secretive sales and often less expensive than buying black-market opioids.
Lester urged the audience members to get rid of any prescription drugs they no longer need by bringing them to a drug drop-box at the Sartell Police Department. That, he said, is especially true of opioids because some people raid medicine cabinets of relatives or even strangers to get their hands on such medications.
The Central Minnesota Violent Offenders Task Force works in a five-county area: Stearns, Benton, Sherburne, Morrison, Todd. The 16-member force, which deals with drugs, gangs and sex-trafficking, is the third-largest such force in Minnesota. The work includes undercover investigations, penetration of gangs through a network of informants, the initiation of high-risk arrests and the tracking of sex offenders. It also works in conjunction with the FBI.
Gangs, Lester said, do not appear to be on the increase in Central Minnesota. One factor that prevents formation of gangs, he noted, is when young people – especially those new to America – become adapted and acculturated to society; that adaptation and sense of belonging is a strong deterrent to any temptation to want to join gangs.
“I honestly haven’t seen a lot of it (gang activity) in this area,” Lester said.
Lester was asked if domestic abuse is on the increase. He said he doesn’t think it is, although it is more often reported because of an increasing awareness of the problem by victims and friends and relatives of victims. It’s also in the news more often, he noted, because attorneys and the courts are becoming diligent at bringing charges against offenders and prosecuting them, Lester noted. He gave the Stearns County Attorney’s Office very high marks for prosecuting cases of physical and sexual abuse, including sex-trafficking crimes.
One problem in the greater St. Cloud area, Lester said, is criminals, including drug- and sex-sellers, often come from as far away as Chicago, then move to Minneapolis and then to Central Minnesota. They find it easier to commit offenses and/or “hide out” in this area.
The best way for the general public to help law enforcement, including the Violent Offenders Task Force, is to “say something if they see something,” Lester advises. Any suspicious activity should be reported to local police and/or sheriff departments, he said. Those who convey information can remain anonymous if they choose.
Lester listed some behaviors that might indicate distribution of drugs, sex-trafficking or other crimes (such as dealing in stolen property – sometimes dubbed “fencing.”
- Watch for short-term traffic either day or night in a neighborhood. That means vehicles or pedestrians arriving and entering a house or apartment, staying for a short time, then leaving. Such a series of short visits can mean drugs or sex are being sold.
- People should be aware crimes of drugs, sex, theft and violent abuse can happen in any kind of neighborhood. Perpetrators, Lester said, can look just as “ordinary” as anybody. The stereotype of the “wasted” drug dealer with emaciated body, pale skin, facial sores can be true in some cases, but Lester said most people would be surprised at how “ordinary” or even “respectable” some offenders look.
- Many residents, Lester added, think sex and drug crimes happen mainly in decrepit neighborhoods. But, he added, they can happen in fine-looking homes, upscale apartment buildings, mobile homes – virtually anywhere. And the selling of drugs and prostitution can and do occur even in parks and other public places, he added.
- Lester said by acting on the key phrase of “See something, say something,” the general public can help police, deputies and task-force members “connect dots” to help combat crime. He also advises people who report crimes to be patient because in some cases it takes a lot of investigative work before search warrants can be obtained and arrests can be made.