Lawmen taking it to the streets in escalating effort against illegal drugs

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Whether we're winning the war on drugs may be up for debate, but judging from recent numbers, what isn't up for debate is local law enforcement's commitment to the cause.

In March alone The Lebanon Voice has reported on five indictments of area residents on drug possession or trafficking charges, with another seven arrested and one sentenced.

Rochester drug arrest numbers, in particular, show a startling increase since last year, with officers utilizing a more proactive approach in investigating and developing suspects, Rochester Police Capt. Gary Boudreau said recently.

"To make these drug arrests our officers cannot be reactive," he said. "They have to have time to be proactive in their daily patrols."

Key to this strategy was the hiring of civilian workers to perform administrative and clerical duties at the department, which freed up patrol officers to work leads and ongoing drug investigations.

The strategy worked. From 2013 to 2015, drug arrests in the city more than doubled, from 90 in 2013, to 116 in 2014 to 223 last year.

While the Milton Police Department may not have the manpower of their colleagues in Rochester, their percentage increase in drug arrests has been just as dramatic.

So far this year, they have made 14 drugs arrests compared to four for the same time period last year. Overall, Milton Police made 16 drug arrests in 2014 and 24 last year.

"We try to be as proactive as we can, through are motor vehicle traffic stops," Milton Police Chief Richard Krauss said today. "We also develop whatever intel work we can and work closely with the drug task force to see where they can take those cases."

Krauss said his department is committed to drug enforcement no matter the drug, but acknowledged that reports of fentanyl, heroin or meth tend to "catch our eye a little harder due to their dangerousness."

Both Milton and Rochester rely heavily on the efforts of the Strafford County Drug Task Force, which is made up of officers from police departments throughout Strafford County.

The task force was formed in 2014, and in 2015 made 54 drug arrests.

According to Strafford County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Joseph T. McGivern, the task force has already made 11 arrests this year in January and February alone.

He said heroin is the primary focus right now, with marijuana and crack cocaine close behind.

"Heroin is what we're seeing more now," McGivern said. "The leads are developed by participating agencies and we follow up on those leads."

McGivern said unlike a drug possession arrest, trafficking arrests require much more precision and planning.

"First we get info that someone is selling the drug," he said. "Then undercover people set up (multiple) buys, otherwise the defense in court will say it was a onetime occurrence, so we like to have a pattern."

He said drug enforcement is very much a collaborative effort between local police, the state DEA, state police and the other task forces.

Meanwhile, Maine showed its resolve to battle the current drug epidemic earlier this month hiring an addition 13 state DEA agents, whose focus will largely be in undercover work targeting drug traffickers.

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