Washington Police Chief Ed Menefee said drug use, namely heroin, continued to be an issue in the city in 2017. He doesn’t see the issue getting better any time soon.
“If somebody had a solution, they’d be a multimillionaire,” he said. “Everyone is looking for one, but the problem is the addiction. You have to get rid of the demand.”
Menefee said 2017 didn’t see a major increase in the number of crimes in Washington, but drug crimes were up 20 percent. The city saw an increase in drug use and drug-related crimes.
“Heroin is still a problem,” he said. “I can see it in the number of drug cases, the stolen vehicles, the crisis intervention cases, burglaries. It’s what we need to work on.”
Menefee said he is bothered by the increase in overdoses in Washington. Officers responded to 12 in 2017 compared to six the year before. The city also had three overdose deaths after having one in 2016.
“Overdoses are worse,” he said. “The crimes associated have shifted a little. I don’t think it’s gotten worse, it’s just shifted, but the overdoses are much worse and I’m hoping they don’t increase more in 2018.”
Menefee said officers will try to step up street-level enforcement to try and get the drugs off the street. However, that likely won’t eliminate the problem.
One of the biggest problems with the opioid epidemic is the lack of a local connection makes enforcement more of a challenge, Menefee said. During the methamphetamine boom of the early 2000s, the drug often came from the area with county residents manufacturing and selling meth.
Use slowed as groups like the Multi-County Narcotics and Violent Crimes Enforcement Unit put a stop to meth operations.
Menefee said the heroin found in Washington mostly comes from the city of St. Louis. He said people leave the city limits and head downtown to purchase opioids.
“We’ve got to pick away at it,” he said. “Arrest them, see if they’ll turn over information on other people and become informants, surveillance and try and get rid of some dealers in the county. It takes a lot of work. And that’s just chipping away at it. You’ve got pounds — tons — coming in across the border. St. Louis is a major drug hub.”
Most people Washington police encounter only buy enough drugs for personal use, but some buy enough to sell on a small level, Menefee said. There haven’t been any local dealers with a large supply like some found in St. Louis, he said.
The switch to suppliers from out of the area is happening with meth, Menefee said. Police reported finding a “comeback” of the drug in 2017. Police said older users tend to use meth, while younger ones use heroin.
Menefee said the meth found in the county often comes from Mexico. The meth is different from the homegrown drugs in both quality and price.
More and more police said they are seeing drugs like marijuana, heroin and meth that are more potent and low cost.
“Those are cheap and on the market,” he said.
Menefee said some police agencies are predicting cocaine will likely follow suit in 2018.
“The next thing coming is cocaine,” he said. “The quality is much higher than what it used to be in the 1980s.”
One goal for 2018 Menefee said is to better educate the community to reduce drug-related crimes.
“Lock your car, lock your house, keep your keys out of your car,” he said. “We need to educate store owners that if they see these people, call us and tell us what’s going on. ... When they see these people they don’t recognize, call it in. When they hear noises at night, call it in.”