Behind the Badge: small cities feel online drug-trade impact

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DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) – De Pere police say the drug trade is the cause of nearly every other major crime on the rise in their city.

Target 2 put Andrea Hay on assignment—spending the last eight weeks in the De Pere Police Citizens Academy— a program designed to educate people who live in the city about the issues officers face every single day.

Most of them stem from drug and alcohol abuse; in fact, police estimate those two things are related to 80 percent of all crime that happens in De Pere.

“Theft of vehicles. Home invasions. Identity theft. All because they need money for drugs. It all comes back to that,” said Jedd Bradley, City of De Pere Community Service Officer.

“Identity theft is huge now—it’s off the charts,” continued Bradley. “Why not grab your purse off your seat at the gas pump? Because—‘I know I can go take a cash advance out at the bank before you know your purse is even gone, off your credit card. Boom, there’s my $200 for my heroin.’”

De Pere police say in the last twenty years, their “small town bubble” has been popped by the internet drug trade. Selling comes fast and easy for dealers on the internet, deemed “the sales person’s best friend, and small-town police department’s worst nightmare.”

“Has [internet] helped the drug trade? Absolutely. Absolutely. We’re always behind-we are always behind the ball. There’s a new crime that happens tomorrow? We as law enforcement have to figure out how to solve that crime, educate the public on it, and how to get in front of it. We can’t tell you what they’re going to come up with next,” said Bradley.

Instructors told the class new drugs they’ve probably never seen or heard of are extremely dangerous—they have no regulations because they’re made in Mexico and China—shipped right to front doors across town.

Take for example the drug that goes by the street name “pink,” technically called U-47700.

The recently-popular drug is three times stronger than heroin and has been linked to deaths all over the Midwest: even part of the drug cocktail that killed Prince.

The Monday this story goes to air: the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) placed a temporary ban on Pink— ruling it a “schedule one narcotic,” which means it has no accepted medical use, and a high potential for abuse.

Another example: an animal tranquilizer used on elephants called Carfentanil is also making its way here, coming from Milwaukee, but made in China—shipped here legally. WISN did this report about the drug making its way into northeast Wisconsin.

Sometimes an officer makes a routine traffic stop and  has no idea how or why the person they’ve pulled over got to a hallucinogenic state.  “You get an everyday patrol officer out here, and they’re like, ‘man this guy is messed up. I don’t smell any alcohol, and I don’t really know what to do with this guy.’ And that’s where the drug recognition expert comes in,” said academy instructor Alicia Bagley, officer with the De Pere Police Department and a drug recognition expert and teacher.

Bagley is able to look at someone’s pupils, body movement and speech to identify the user in one of seven drug categories, and shares bizarre traffic stops with the class.

“[A woman] was driving a car, but thought she was melting into the walls- it was really bad.,” Bagley told the class. “[Investigators] actually were able to go back and backtrack and get a warrant for her apartment, and that’s where they found that she was basically using her entire apartment as a mushroom-growing facility,”

“Which, if you know how mushrooms are made- it smelled really, really bad,” she added.

“In Green Bay?” a surprised student asked.

In Green Bay,” Bagley answered.

Undercover narcotic detectives say drug users no longer fall into specific demographics; college students and body builders may be obvious targets for dealers, but imagine walking into your workplace break room and finding a vial of cocaine inside the coffee maker…”we did actually just recently see this at a high-end company in De Pere,” Bagley announced to the class.

Bagley was the only drug expert able to go on-record with this Target 2 assignment (the rest were undercover), but wasn’t the only to say that doctors are over-prescribing pain medications. Police find that opiate abusers turn to heroin, because it’s cheaper.

They disagree with the idea of methadone clinics, too. “The idea is to ween them off,” Bagley told the class, “but I’m not a fan of methadone clinics. A lot of times, it’s just prolonging. They just continue to get the same dose for ten years, and nothing ever changes.”

Bagley’s insight into the drug trade had a powerful impact on the academy grads. “I’m a high school teacher,” said graduate Kelly Suda. “Unfortunately, some of the students I see have been exposed to and are involved in drugs. It’s not people from a socioeconomic background. It’s not people in a certain neighborhood. That kind of a topic hits just about everywhere.

Police say awareness is a huge piece of drug-crime prevention—and that’s why the six hours of drug-related content in the academy is a critical piece to the work that they do. “We can’t do our job as well if the public has no idea what we’re up to,” said Bradley. “Our jobs improve to an exponential percentage when you all know why we do what we do, and can help up stop criminal activity.”