Shawano drug unit expects busy year

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Shawano police expect to become more aggressive in the coming year on the local front in the war on drugs as they put to use additional money set aside by the Common Council.

City officials approved an extra $25,000 per year to resurrect the Police Department’s drug unit, which had been hobbled by budget cuts since 2008.

“We were kind of out of the game for a while, and I think it’s going to take a little bit to get back in the game again,” Police Chief Ed Whealon said.

“Slowly but surely things are picking up,” he said. “As time goes on, I think the program will bear some fruit.”

In April, the Common Council unanimously supported taking $25,000 out of the city’s contingency fund for this year and dedicating it to the department’s drug unit. It became a regularly budgeted item starting with the 2014 budget.

Some of the money approved this year went to things such as special tactical vests, surveillance equipment and additional canine training.

“The canine will be a key component to the success of this program,” Whealon said.

In the meantime, officers have been “actively out there beating the bushes,” Whealon said, though the results might not always be obvious.

In some cases, such as when officers turn up people in possession of drugs at a traffic stop, there will be an attempt to “turn them,” Whealon said, in hopes of catching the dealer.

“There’s a myriad of different ways of doing this,” Whealon said. “Every avenue at their disposal, they’re trying. I’ve basically unleashed them and told then, whatever you’ve got to do, try it, as long as it’s legal and ethical. Give it a shot and see what happens.”

Before 2004, city police were part of a Multi-jurisdictional Enforcement Group that included Shawano and Menominee counties and Menominee Tribal Police.

When state funding for MEG units dried up, it was left to local departments to take up the slack. The Shawano Police Department established its own drug unit with several officers dedicated to drug investigations in addition to their regular duties.

Their efforts included stationing themselves outside local bars to watch for drug activity in the parking lots, which police say often resulted in two to three arrests per weekend, surveillance and sifting through the garbage of residences where drug activity was suspected.

The department’s drug unit initiated 53 search warrants in the city between 2004 and 2007. According to department statistics, police investigated 82 narcotic cases during those years, leading to 115 arrests and 240 charges, and seized 662 grams of marijuana, 866 grams of cocaine, 36 ecstasy pills and 44 marijuana plants, along with cash and vehicles.

The city started implementing belt-tightening measures in 2008. With health insurance, wages and other expenses increasing, the only option was cutting overtime, Whealon said. As a result, officers were unable to put in the extra time required for intensive drug investigations.