Perhaps, Dan Cummings says, one can look at the record numbers accumulated by the Jackson County Drug Task Force in two ways.
According to its recently released annual report, the Drug Task Force, which included officers from several law enforcement agencies, reports that it seized more than $30.45 million worth of illegal narcotics in 2019 – nearly twice as much as year ($16 million) and more than the previous two years combined ($29.6 million).
On one hand, it could mean more drugs than ever are coming into the metro area, said Cummings, the Task Force officer-in-charge. “Or, does it mean we're just doing a better job going after the drug traffickers?”
Perhaps there are more drugs, due to the Mexican cartels’ well-organized business that accounts for most of the methamphetamine. Meth accounted for nearly $25.8 million of the drug value. But Cummings said that as investigators make arrests, gain information in interrogations and learn more about cartel operations, they’re able to arrest dealers and traffickers higher up the supply chain and make larger drug seizures in the process.
The Task Force’s total seizure value marked the first time it even topped $20 million. In 2010, it seized $1.054 million and presented 52 cases for prosecution – five of them federal cases. Only one time since has the case number been below 100 (92 in 2018), and last year the Task Force presented 207 cases for prosecution, 172 of them federal.
That, Cummings said, showed how investigators have been able to work their way up drug supply chains and across state lines. Whereas many drug cases in the 1990s and shortly after the turn of the century were small-time operations producing and distributing out of homes, many seizures now come from complex drug rings.
“It used to be all home-cooked meth, and when we really got rid of most of those, the demand was still there,” Cummings said. “The cartels just stepped in and filled that demand.”
While Task Force investigators seized 323 pounds of marijuana in 2019, they also seized 297 pounds of meth, including 144 in one October bust, as well as 126 guns during drug seizures. Cummings said his investigators have found meth is selling at less than half the price that it was 10 or 15 years ago, and drugs get more expensive – and in the case of meth, diluted – further down the supply line – another example of how much more drugs they’re getting.
“The higher up the chain, the cheaper it is,” Cummings said.
Furthermore, Cummings said in a release, one can look at the number of drug doses kept off the streets – a couple million worth, he said.
“I know we're keeping some kids from getting what would have been their first dose of meth or some other drug,” Cummings said.
The Drug Task Force is entirely funded by the Community Backed Anti-Crime Tax (COMBAT), the quarter-cent sales tax that voters first approved in 1989 and have renewed multiple times since. The County Prosecutor’s Office oversees that tax revenue, and in 2019 the Task Force’s budget was $2.28 million – about $1 for every $7.50 in illegal drugs the Task Force seized last year.
Cummings said investigators have also worked to improve relationships with local drug rehabilitation and prevention programs, as helping users or would-be users can hopefully reduce demand.
COMBAT Director Vince Ortega said in a release that by zeroing in on suppliers and seizing the drugs before they reach the streets, the Drug Task Force can curb violence associated with drug trafficking.
The Drug Task Force, he said, “is very much an anti-violence task force, too."