City hires task force to help with investigations
By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN Since 2012, the number of drug complaints in Winsted has tripled a trend that’s prompted the city to seek specialized help for complex cases.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the council approved membership with the Southwest Metro Drug Task Force, an agency that assists police departments with search warrants, arrests, collection of evidence, testimony, forfeited items, and other aspects of drug-related investigations.
“They follow it all the way through,” Winsted Police Chief Justin Heldt said.
The task force was formed in 1996, and is used by various cities and counties in the metro area. In 2013, the task force conducted a total of 201 investigations, and made 75 drug-related arrests.
“They can do it more effectively and efficiently than we can,” added City Administrator Clay Wilfahrt.
Recently, the Winsted Police Department has been working with the task force on a free trial basis.
“I’ve called them on five different investigations,” Heldt said. “There have been some larger cases this year.”
As of the end of November, Winsted had received 20 drug-related complaints in 2014. Heldt said that number has since gone up even further. Last year, the city had a total of 14 drug complaints, and there were seven complaints in 2012.
“It’s unfortunately an upward trend,” Wilfahrt said.
In 2015, Winsted’s cost for membership with the task force will be $1,050. In subsequent years, annual dues will be $2,100. The city can opt out of membership anytime, with a 30-day notice.
According to a task force fact sheet, in 2013 the organization seized 284 marijuana plants, more than 1,500 grams of methamphetamine, and 108 grams of cocaine, among other drugs. The total street value of seized drugs was estimated at $878,492.
“Certain drugs are more prevalent now, and others aren’t as much as they used to be,” Heldt said.
Between 2007 and 2012, marijuana was the most common drug (excluding alcohol) that people were admitted to treatment programs for in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
Cocaine was the second-highest in 2007, but by 2012, cocaine admissions were cut in half, while heroin admissions doubled.
Methamphetamine and other opiates were on a modest uptick during those years, both surpassing cocaine usage by 2010.
Heldt reported on a few other trends Tuesday evening, as well. Winsted has had 27 domestic assault cases this year (as of the end of November), compared to 25 in all of 2013.
There were also nine vulnerable adult cases so far, compared to two in 2013. A vulnerable adult is someone who needs assistance from a guardian due to emotional or mental status, or physical disability, according to Heldt.
“Our population is getting older, and I do foresee these cases increasing,” he said.
For medical calls, Heldt expects the total to be less than last year’s total of 175, but still on a general upward trend.
Winsted has had 61 calls regarding suspicious people in vehicles, which has led to arrests and solved cases.
“When people see things that aren’t right, they should let us know,” Heldt said. “We have a vigilant community, and our citizens do a great job of that.”
Other police news
In other police department news, Heldt reported:
• Blight has been up recently, which is unusual for this time of year.
• Some vehicles have still been parked on the street overnight, which is a violation of the winter parking policy. If a person needs to park a vehicle on the street between 2 and 6 a.m., they need to obtain permission from the city beforehand in order to avoid a ticket.
• Heldt will start his second year teaching the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program to local students in January.
• Police officers are now carrying department-issued weapons, which are .45 caliber Glock pistols.