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Grant County named High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area

by SAM FLETCHER
Staff Writer | April 5, 2021 1:00 AM

“Heroin is an absolute pandemic,” said Grant County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Dustin Canfield, head of the Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team (INET).

Fentanyl and other opiates have been a growing problem in the last couple years, he said, but “the biggest problem we’re seeing is the heroin and the meth.”

Supervised by the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, INET includes detectives from the sheriff’s office, Quincy police, Ephrata police and the Washington State Patrol. The group is expecting a federal grant in a few weeks to further its fight against drugs.

Drugs come from all over, Canfield said. Seattle, Tri-Cities, Spokane, through northern counties, from Canada and elsewhere. Interstate 90, state Route 17 and U.S. Route 2 all cut through the center of the state, Grant County, making it a hotspot for drug trafficking.

In early 2020, INET requested High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) designation by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which would grant the team additional federal funding and resources, Canfield said. The request was competitive against numerous counties across the country.

In June 2020, according to the Federal Register, the Office of National Drug Control Policy granted this designation request, making Grant County the first HIDTA in the state in more than 15 years.

“We are a big county with limited resources,” Canfield said. “We have a great task force, a very motivated task force, but it was only a couple individuals working that full time. It’s not like when you go to other counties and they got 15-20 guys in the task force.”

The additional funding, a number not set in stone, is anticipated to arrive in the coming weeks, he said.

Narcotics work requires lots of surveillance, drug buys, undercover work, dealing with informant conflicts and more, he said.

“It takes several guys to be able to do those things, so we’ve been very limited as to the potential of what we could be doing,” he said.

In addition to greater federal resources and direct contact with the attorney general’s office, INET requested surveillance equipment and gear, as well as funds for overtime hours and enhancing their training program.

Overtime is one of the biggest money vacuums in a drug unit, Canfield said. Detectives still have to fill reports and paperwork during the day, and a lot of the narcotics case work is at night.

“Dope work doesn’t stop,” he said. “It’s 24 hours a day.”

Last month, in the State v. Blake case, the Washington Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional to criminalize simple possession, a user amount. Because of the narcotics epidemic in Grant County, county commissioners signed an ordinance continuing to make simple possession illegal within county borders, according to the Grant County Sheriff’s Office.

Canfield said this will not change the daily function of INET.

“We do go after the street dealer, but we’re more aimed for the big fish,” he said. “Not that we turn a blind eye to the average user, but if we can cut off the source, in the end it cuts off the users.”

A big thing the new resources will provide is a second eye on these bigger narcotics cases, Canfield said. They will have the tools to go to a federal level as opposed to the state.

This new designation is a step in the right direction, Canfield said, but it’s just the start. They’re currently working on involving more agencies and assigning another Ephrata detective to INET.

“(The Office of National Drug Control Policy sees) what we’re up against, and they know that in the future is going to probably require more support,” he said. “We’re happy to receive anything, and we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, working hard, and hopefully slow the drug pandemic in our county to curb some of the behavior.”

(This story has been updated with a clarification.)

photo

Courtesy Grant County Sheriff's Office

Meth evidence photo.