Law enforcement officers in this region have a new weapon in their arsenal in the war on drugs.
The Franklin County Narcotics Enforcement Unit recently acquired a TruNarc analyzer which is 99.9 percent accurate for identifying various narcotics, including synthetic drugs.
“This will be a giant asset for law enforcement,” remarked Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke.
Use of the device will greatly expedite getting charges against drug offenders, said Detective Sgt. Jason Grellner, task force commander.
“We’ll be working with the courts and prosecuting attorneys from Franklin, Lincoln and Reynolds counties to move forward with this new technology,” Grellner said.
The handheld device, which costs $20,000, was purchased from Thermo Scientific with federal forfeiture funds obtained in a previous drug case, Grellner explained.
Now, suspected drug defendants who are arrested are released until drugs seized are analyzed at the Missouri Highway Patrol laboratory.
That process can take anywhere from eight months to more than a year because of the backlog of cases.
“I’m really excited about this,” remarked Franklin County Prosecutor Bob Parks. “It will eliminate having people who don’t get charged for a year or more. Now, we’ll be able to charge them immediately.”
Parks said currently he won’t issue drug charges without a lab analysis because judges insist on having those reports at a preliminary hearing.
“I think it will be a big boon for us,” Parks said. “If we pick someone up today, we’ll be able to charge them now rather than wait eight to 10 months.”
In cases where defendants refuse a plea bargain and insist on going to trial, Parks said he will have a standard lab analysis done in addition to the TruNarc results.
The TruNarc analyzer is recognized for its accuracy in 28 states and 22 countries, according to Joseph Smith, business development manager with Thermo Scientific.
Not only will it allow law enforcement to obtain charges quicker, “it will help defendants who want to seek treatment and get into drug court,” Grellner pointed out.
Now, offenders who are released pending lab reports, often go out and commit other crimes, such as burglaries and stealing, to get money to buy more drugs.
On the flip side, if the device shows no illegal drugs in a sample, the suspect is exonerated.
The TruNarc device uses a laser beam to “excite” the molecules in a suspected drug, then identifies the drug from an internal library, Grellner explained.
Then, a law enforcement agency can print out the results using a computer which can be compared to a drug’s signature through a standard test.
The device’s library includes a large amount of synthetic drugs, which mimic the effects of marijuana and other drugs, which have flooded the market in the last few years.
As new synthetic drugs are developed, the company will provide updates free of charge, Grellner noted.
The device can identify drugs without taking them out of a bag or glass container which eliminates the possibility of contaminating evidence.
The technology originally was developed to enable the military to detect homemade explosives.
Grellner said the task force will make the device available to all law enforcement agencies in communities that are members of the narcotics unit.
He said Thermo Scientific will bring in people to train officers on use of the device at no charge. At that time, he said he will invite prosecuting attorneys and judges to participate.
“The next step will be to work with prosecuting attorneys to develop protocol for use of the system,” Grellner said.
Grellner said additional money from the federal forfeiture was used to purchase an upgraded device to analyze and extract data on cellphones that are seized from suspects.
That device, which costs about $10,000, also will be available to all law enforcement agencies in the region.