Summit County makes a move to stop drug runners

Published: Tuesday, May 28 2013 5:55 p.m. MDT

COALVILLE — Summit County has seen a dramatic uptick in drug seizures, thanks to a change in the way roads are policed in the county.

Capt. Justin Martinez said Tuesday the Summit County Sheriff’s Office has been cross-deputizing one of its deputies as an agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency, and enforcement efforts have been “extremely successful.”

Within the past two months, Martinez said the county – in conjunction with the DEA – seized over 200 pounds of marijuana, 5 kilos of cocaine as well as a lot of money. Martinez declined to disclose exact figures.

The county also seized five rifles, a sawed-off shotgun, three handguns, a stolen bullet-proof vest and a police jacket.

“We pretty much have a strong choke point (on I-80) before they get to the (U.S. Route 40) interchange, and we can use that to our advantage,” Martinez said.

Martinez said Summit County's deputy had developed confidential informants and had access to the federal El Paso Intelligence Center database – leading to better information about who may be passing through the county.

The deputy, Martinez said, is also trained on how to identify vehicles as potential drug vehicles.

“If you get out-of-state plates and three guys driving in a vehicle with pillows – there’s just tell-tale signs that the DEA agents look for,” Martinez said.

Martinez declined to elaborate further on signs trained officers watch for, but did add that officers must observe a moving or vehicle violation to initiate a stop.

Cross-deputizing a deputy is a rare move for rural jurisdictions, Martinez said, because those agencies pay for the officers’ salaries – yet the officers work almost exclusively on federal drug enforcement efforts. That puts a strain on department resources.

“There’s a perception that the small, rural counties and cities obviously don’t have the manpower, don’t have those resources available to them and it’s easier to glide through those jurisdictions as opposed to when you’re in metropolitan areas,” Martinez said.

County officials want drug runners to know sheriff’s deputies are now out watching.

Arrests and seizures, he said, have led to drug enforcement efforts in other states like California. But quantifying the difference between current enforcement seizure totals and those before the partnership with the DEA is not possible, Martinez said, because the county has no comparison highway efforts.

“We have not been able to put a large dent into it until recently,” he said. “Having that person assigned from our smaller jurisdiction to a large organization really has upped the ante here in Summit County.”

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