Harvey County drug task force to add new members

FILE - This Sept. 15, 2015 file photo shows marijuana plants with their buds covered in white crystals at a medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill. U.S. women are increasingly using marijuana during pregnancy, sometimes to treat morning sickness, new reports suggest. Though the actual numbers are small, the trend raises concerns because of evidence linking the drug with low birth weights and other problems. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

NEWTON, Kan. (KSNW) – If you buy or sell drugs in Newton or Harvey County, the drug field is about to get a little more crowded.

“We are serious about doing something more to fight drugs,” said Harvey County Sheriff Chad Gay. “We needed to be more aggressive with our drug investigations so we promoted someone out of our patrol division specifically to work drugs. So we took someone off patrol to be on the drug fight (and) I went to county commissioners and said I need a couple more guys to allow our investigator to focus solely on drugs. I need a general investigator as soon as possible. And one more for drug task force.”

The Police Chief of Newton welcomes the help. A Newton police investigator has been full-time on drug investigations throughout the county.

“The drug problem here is no different from anywhere else,” said Newton Police Chief Eric Murphy. “We’ve partnered with Harvey County and we provide one investigator to Harvey County and the sheriff’s department also has one drug investigator that are working side-by-side as partners.”

Chief Murphy said one or two people working the drug problem is neither proper nor safe. He said they often have to pull other investigators or other resources to go assist with drug investigations.

Both agencies, working together, are asking for a total of about $186,000 extra to hire, outfit and equip and train three positions, total.

The increase for at least one of those positions would have to come from the Harvey County Commission. City leaders said they stand behind the use of more resources.

“We know from some very recent experience with some measures here in our community, that public safety is a number one priority,” said Barth Hague, Newton City Commissioner. “We also face, like a lot of other municipal and county governments, some real tough budget realities. So we have to make sure we’re spending our money as wisely as we can. That said we have heard presentations about the (drug) task force and in general we are all in agreement with the need to ramp up those kinds of services.”

Sheriff Gay said he recently moved a patrol officer to the drug investigation division, and that has left an opening that needs to be filled. In addition to filling the patrol division member within the department, the sheriff said they will soon have another general investigator, as early as August. The other drug investigator should be hired by the first of the new year.

“I think just talking to people in the community? They are buying into it. This is something we have got to get a handle on,” said Gay. “This stuff goes on everywhere but for me, this is where I grew up. This is my home . This is my family. This is where my family will raise their family.”

Both the sheriff and Chief Murphy said they know meth and marijuana continue to be problems. And they expect heroin to follow the national trend in the area. But, they said, with the first dedicated task force to fight drugs in the county in about a decade, they will be better equipped to fight the problem.

“Will we ever win the war on drugs?” asked Sheriff Gay. “Good question. We know we are putting a dent in it. And now it will be a bigger dent.”

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