September was an especially bad month to be a methamphetamine trafficker in Columbus.
Between Sept. 10 and Sept. 29, members of the Police Department's Special Operations Unit and other officers cleared more than three pounds of meth from the streets in trafficking cases, and arrested nine in the process.
Some of the busts were luck — for example, the Sept. 16 arrest of five people after officers followed a vehicle suspected of frequenting drug-ridden area back to an apartment at 914 30th Street. The officers didn't expect the drivers would lead them to a residence where trafficking was taking place, but 70 grams of meth, several weapons, a small amount of marijuana and nearly $9,000 were seized during that investigation.
The trafficking arrests can't all be credited to fortunate breaks, though. Special Operations Unit Captain Gil Slouchick said the increase in arrests starts at the ground level, with more awareness and better training on the part of patrol officers and other public safety agencies.
According to Slouchick, the department has seen an increase in area trafficking in 2013.
"I think it's more a concentration by the combined law enforcement agencies because we're really seeing a problem with it," Slouchick said. "I think a lot of it has to do with the training and experience of our officers, too."
And then there's the prowess of his investigation teams, who work long hours, often go undercover and sometimes pose as meth customers to catch salesmen.
"Some investigations last months, some last weeks and some last days," Slouchick said. "It just depends. We run them until we're done."
Metro Drug Task Force, when asked about the trend, said their cases did not reflect the increase seen by Slouchick, but their cases too are bound by the information they're able to gather.
"It just happens to depend on what investigation falls into your lap," said Sgt. Robert Austin, who is second in command of the Task Force. "I'm not sitting here thinking to myself, 'Wow, we've had a lot of meth arrests.'"
For the first half of 2013, the Special Operations Unit cleared two active meth labs, five inactive ones and three dump sites.
Crime Analysis Unit Lt. Bill Rawn said Slouchick's unit sets a goal to bring 1,400 cases to district attorneys. Those cases include all drug investigations they've performed, whether the seized drug is cocaine, meth, marijuana or some other illegal substance.
"They filed 949 cases between January and June," Rawn said. "A case doesn't mean only one person was arrested, either. It doesn't matter if they arrest one or 1,000. I'll just show one case for one investigation."
Police have found small quantities of meth made in Columbus, most of which is "dirty," or low quality. However, the majority of meth in the area is shipped in from Atlanta, and is more refined than the locally produced amateur fare.
Not that it matters much to its consumers, Slouchick said. Users of the highly addictive drug sometimes go to extreme methods to get a fix — such as cooking the substance out of their urine.
"They have 'pee parties,'" Slouchick said. "Everybody pees in the jar and they cook it out. It's not good meth, and it's not clean meth. But it's meth."
The same desperation that pushes some meth users to cook out trace amounts in their urine can also drive other crime. That's true of more than just meth, Rawn said.
"For so many of our crimes, drugs are the center piece," Rawn said. "They have to have money to support their habit, and so they steal. And so people will ask 'Why did they break into my house?' Because they wanted to sell something to support their habit."
Monthly Crime Map and Housekeeping Note:
In case you missed it, we moved from Google Maps to ZeeMaps as our map creator last week.
The program was picked for two reasons: to increase functionality and (hopefully) decrease technical issues. With a new map creator comes a different layout, but one in which we've been able to enrich detail and circumvent navigation glitches.
A major change readers will notice is the lack of map layers and the change in markers. Instead of using crime categories or color-coded legends, a picture will represent the types of crimes committed.
Here's the breakdown:
Gun: Armed assaults and assaults where an unknown weapon was used
Boxing gloves: Unarmed assaults and batteries
Don't touch sign: Sexual crimes, public exposure and stalking crimes
Money bag: Robberies and burglaries
Pill: Drug related arrests
Paw print: Animal cruelty
Speed limit sign: Citations and misdemeanor offenses
Fire: Arson and fires
Shopping cart: Shoplifting
Car: Traffic accident
Because this is the monthly crime map, and some incidences happened at the same or almost the same location, users may have to zoom in close to see every entry.
On another note: many of you have reached out to me in the past week and requested burglaries be added to the map. Next week's map will see their addition, particularly in areas where several have been been reported.
Any other crime-related concerns in your neighborhood? Comment, call 706-571-8622, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be listening.