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Joint Northeast Iowa agency is active despite low budget
By KEN BECKER, News Editor
The statistics read like something one would expect in a highly populated area.
The report reads: 12 search warrants, 24 felony defendants, 13 misdemeanor defendants, 15.35 pounds of processed marijuana, 134 commercial plants, 460.3 grams of meth, six doses of LSD, 140 dosage units of pharmaceuticals, 10 pounds of psilocybin mushrooms, three grams of opium, three active meth labs, two functional labs, five boxed labs, two partial labs and seven dump sites.
Wow, that is a lot of activity. No, it isn't a report from Des Moines or even Waterloo or Mason City. It is from the Northeast Iowa Drug Task Force.
For THREE MONTHS. And those aren't all. Some of the drug investigations and arrests don't involve the task force.
Steve Trumblee, a deputy sheriff with the Clayton County sheriff's department, sends task force reports quarterly to the dozen member agencies that make up the drug task force.
"I honestly believe the Northeast Iowa Task Force gets about as much bang for its buck than any in the state," said Howard County sheriff Mark Grinhaug. "They don't get much money but do an excellent job, thanks mainly because many of the offices involved are volunteers."
Although some task forces have paid directors, officer Trumblee and officer Warren Leeps of the Decorah police department and others have taken on that responsibility. Officer Leeps takes care of grant applications, which in itself can be a major undertaking.
"We pay $500 a year," said sheriff Grinhaug. "The task force also receives funds from the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant program. That has helped a lot."
Some of the money is used to pay overtime to the officers involved in anti-drug work, helping to keep local enforcement budgets in line.
"Drug enforcement can be very time consuming," continued sheriff Grinhaug. "There is a great deal of information needed as part of the investigation, then you have the actual raid, usually when a search warrant is issued, followed by the arrests and charges being filed. And all that information has to hold up in court."
Helping in all of this is the federal law enforcement and prosecution. "Federal prosecution has taken a jump in our (task force) cases," continued the sheriff. "It was zero just a few years ago. I can think of four federal cases from right around here just in the last year or so. In one case, the defendant was sentenced to 151 months and he will have to serve at least 80 percent of that sentence. That is 10 years."
The task force was launched about 1990 and had rough going in the early years. "Getting organized was a problem," said Howard County sheriff's deputy Mike Miner. "There wasn't any kind of a budget to hire a director, so we had to rely on volunteers. And that is tough to do, especially when you are going into new territory. Fortunately, we had some people step forward and really got it going. Now I think it runs pretty good."
In addition to coordinating drug enforcement, another asset with the task force is officers getting to know and work with each other. That helps in communications and the acquisition and sharing of information in other cases, too.
Law enforcement agencies that comprise the task force include: sheriff's departments in Howard, Chickasaw, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Clayton Counties and police departments in Cresco, Decorah, Guttenberg, New Hampton, Nashua, Waukon and Elkader.
For last fiscal year, all agencies reported 54 felony defendants, 83 misdemeanors, six weapons forfeited, 31.14 lbs. of processed marijuana, 165 commercial marijuana plants, 75,130 wild plants eradicated, 378.1 grams of meth, 7.7 grams of heroin (opium), 57 dosage units of pharmaceuticals, 15 functional labs, 22 boxed labs, four partial operations, 31 dump sites, and 11 referrals for federal prosecution.