While significant progress has taken place on lab seizures in the past 15 years, methamphetamine is still primarily the drug of choice in Independence, and law enforcement officials say they need the community’s help in fighting back.

While significant progress has taken place on lab seizures in the past 15 years, methamphetamine is still primarily the drug of choice in Independence, and law enforcement officials say they need the community’s help in fighting back.

Independence is continuing its role in a metrowide effort to curb meth manufacturing and distribution. Local police officials can easily state the statistic that Independence had seven total meth lab seizures in 2011.

Those “lab” busts were actually on a smaller scale  – shake-and-bake operations using soft drink bottles. This year, to date, just one lab has been seized, and no meth was recovered in that bust.

But the statistics that aren’t readily available are how many people in Independence remain addicted to meth, a drug known for its strong triggering of dependency. On the possession side, it’s estimated that in 2011, Independence police encountered about 170 cases in which someone possessed meth or meth-related paraphernalia.

So, despite efforts to end production in Independence, meth possession is relatively consistent, said Capt. Paul Thurman, an 18-year veteran of the Independence Police Department who oversees the Drug Enforcement Unit.

“It’s an absolute concern,” he said. “Our possession cases, while still quite high, have stabilized for probably the last several years.”

And why meth? Good question, Thurman said, but he believes it’s mostly a matter of supply and demand.

“Meth is predominant. It’s easy to get, hence people are going to be more addicted to that,” he said. “You go across the state into St. Louis, their drug of choice – from what I read, anyway – is marijuana and heroin. Again, supply and demand – that’s what they have a majority of, and that’s what people are going to get hooked on.”

Because of limited resources, the police are going back to into communities to fight drugs and crime in general, Thurman said, which includes educating communities and neighborhoods about the drug-related issues.

“That is a process that continues – it’s not just a one-time blast,” he said. “...The community is an integral part in knowing what we know. As everybody knows, we cannot be in every spot 24 hours a day. No matter how many officers I get, I cannot be in your neighborhood 24 hours a day.

“Community is the first part of the attack. They’re going to let us know, and we will coordinate with the community and assist them in any way we can.”

Citizens can leave information anonymously through the Drug Enforcement Unit at 816-325-6272 or by calling the Crime Stoppers TIPS Hotline at 816-474-8477.

“We investigate every one of them,” Thurman said of drug-related tips provided to Independence police.

The fight against meth in Independence has evolved somewhat in the last two decades. In the mid-to-late 1990s, meth labs were much bigger in the United States because pseudoephedrine – medication used to treat nasal and sinus congestion and a key component to cook meth – was readily available.

When the “meth wave” hit the Midwest in the late 1990s and early 2000s, “It kind of took us by surprise, to be honest with you,” Thurman said. “We didn’t have any legislation for meth, and we really didn’t know what it was. It was homegrown and subsequently caused a huge impact as far as crime through the areas that it hit.”

Now laws require residents of certain jurisdictions to have a prescription for medications containing pseudoephedrine, and it’s often kept behind the counter.

But fewer labs doesn’t mean the issue of meth has disappeared. The drug is now manufactured in superlabs in Mexico, thanks to the country’s less stringent laws on pseudoephedrine, and it is distributed through networks across the United States, Thurman said.

In the late 1990s, the federal government formed the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, and Independence renewed its role with HIDTA last week.

“It’s really a force multiplier for the Independence Police Department to bring in expertise metrowide and work these organizations,” Police Chief Tom Dailey said. “We have uncovered many that have started in Independence that reached down into Mexico and other places.”

The fight against meth involves three levels locally. The Independence Police Department Drug Enforcement Unit investigates street-level crimes.

If an investigation shows that the crime is beyond the street-level, Independence contacts different task forces throughout the metro area. If a case goes above that level, the feds, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, get involved.

“It’s a chess game,” Dailey said. “We get ahead one piece, and then (the dealers) come back and do something else. Our job is to stay ahead in the chess game.”