Drug warriors tote up the score
The phrase “drug-endangered children” has entered the national law-enforcement lexicon, thanks largely to the ravages of methamphetamine abuse. Last Thursday (April 19), Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey used graphic photographs to show local reporters what the phrase really means. It wasn’t pretty.
As Ramsey put it, “Meth takes the parental instinct right out of parents.”
The occasion was a press conference at the county Probation Department called as part of the Butte Interagency Narcotics Task Force’s release of its annual report for 2006. In addition to Ramsey, Sheriff Perry Reniff and all four of the police chiefs in the county attended, along with BINTF personnel.
Besides catching drug traffickers, BINTF operates a program, in cooperation with the county Children’s Services Division, whose job is to investigate and rescue drug-endangered children.
Case in point: a house visited recently as part of a parole and arrest-warrant sweep in Oroville. There were four small children in the house, ranging in age from 9 months to 4 years old.
Ramsey showed large blow-ups of photos taken inside the house, which was cluttered and filthy beyond description. Cockroaches crawled over unwashed dishes in the kitchen. At least one roach had found its way to the baby’s bottle in his crib. Bathroom walls were covered with mold and mildew, and there were blue-green pellets of rat poison on the floor. Ramsey noted it looked like candy. One child’s pillow was found on top of a gassed-up chainsaw, and exposed extension cords presented an electrocution threat.
“One thing these pictures can’t depict is the smell in the house,” Ramsey said.
No drugs were found, but the parents were known drug abusers. They were arrested for child endangerment, and the children were placed in foster homes.
Fortunately, BINTF is finding fewer drug-endangered children these days—169 were investigated in 2006, compared with 331 in 2004. Of those investigated in 2006, 91 were detained in foster care. Most had witnessed domestic violence; 13 had been physically abused and seven sexually abused. Many had scars, head lice and/or decayed teeth, and seven tested positive for tuberculosis.
The overall decrease in cases is to some extent because of turnover in the DEC program, Ramsey said. Experienced personnel revolved out of DEC in 2006, which is “good for law enforcement overall” because it spreads their experience around, but at the same time fewer cases were being investigated.
More significant, perhaps, the number of meth drug labs seized went down, from 43 in 2002 to just 10 in 2006. Fewer labs means fewer children exposed to the dangers they present, Ramsey said.
Curtis Parks, commander of BINTF’s North County unit, in Chico, explained that recent legislation making it harder to purchase the cold medicines that contain certain necessary precursors such as pseudoephedrine has resulted in fewer labs.
That doesn’t mean there’s less meth on the street, however. It’s “still the drug of choice” in Butte County, Parks said, explaining that users prefer the crystal form, which they smoke. Nowadays, instead of being manufactured locally, it’s mostly smuggled in from Mexico.
According to the 2006 report, meth “was involved in 60 percent of drug arrests and 36 percent of the total arrests made by BINTF.” Although total arrest figures were down, from 506 in 2004 to 265 in 2006, the task force did see a rise in the seizure of both cocaine and black-tar heroin, especially in the Chico area.
Altogether, BINTF seized drugs valued at more than $2.7 million. Interestingly, methamphetamine accounted for only $159,972 of that total; marijuana was the biggest haul, value-wise, coming in at a total of $2,333,125. Processed marijuana was valued at $540 per ounce, for a total of $1,539,125, while the 397 pot plants seized were valued, on average, at $2,000, for a total of $794,000.
Increasingly, speakers at the briefing said, BINTF’s emphasis is on education and getting drug users into treatment. Reniff noted that his department was now doing job training in the jail, as well as offering life-skills programs and education leading to the GDE.
Ramsey, asked about the impact of Governor Schwarzenegger’s plan to slash $25 million from the state budget for Proposition 36 drug treatment programs, didn’t mince words. The plan is “penny wise, pound foolish,” he said.
The governor has a serious and hugely expensive prison-overcrowding problem, and drug treatment programs cut down on the number of people going to prison, he explained.
Ramsey and Reniff both noted that Butte County has one of the best Prop. 36 programs in the country, adding that its Drug Court is also a model for counties nationwide, as is its DEC program.