Dedicated to goal of ‘changing lives’
The Nevada County Narcotics Task Force – this year’s recipient of the Annual Public Safety Commitment Award – is committed to providing excellent public service in partnership with the community.
The primary goal of the NTF is to identify, locate and apprehend drug and narcotics offenders and other persons involved in criminal activity operating within the jurisdiction of Nevada County. This goal is accomplished through professional investigations; enforcement of federal, state and local drug laws and guidelines; the development of citizen support and multijurisdictional collaboration.
A specialized narcotics team was formed within the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office in 1979-1980 under Sheriff Wayne Brown.
In late 1980, Sheriff William “Bill” Heafey saw the need for a specialized group of investigators to combat the drug problem that plagued Nevada County. With the addition of a full-time Nevada City police officer, a true Narcotics Task Force was formed. Sgt. Steve Mason was appointed supervisor of the task force and provided leadership for several years until his retirement in 2002.
Under Sgt. Mason’s guidance, the task force began working closely with law enforcement agencies surrounding Nevada County, as well as the Bureau of Land Management, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. marshals and the state’s parole department.
The task force also began working with intra-county departments, including the district attorney’s office, the probation department and Nevada County’s Department of Social Services. A very close working relationship was established with the Nevada County Probation Department because NTF investigators were often used to check up on probationers who were released from custody under “search” conditions.
To the individual NTF officers, Sergeant Mason offered his philosophy: “It’s not about the number of people we arrest; it’s about changing lives.”
Today, under the administration of Sheriff Keith Royal, the NTF consists of one sergeant, one full-time police officer from Nevada City, one full-time police officer from Grass Valley and four deputy sheriffs. The sheriff’s department continues to be the NTF’s lead agency.
Individuals assigned to work on the task force are carefully screened. Individual work histories and personnel files are inspected, interviews are conducted and the final decision is personally made by the sheriff. All members are experienced veterans of street level law enforcement.
NTF members are subjected to weeks of intense training on narcotic and drug laws, hazardous materials, investigative techniques, technical capabilities, asset forfeiture law and drug-endangered children. Unique to Nevada County’s NTF is the fact that all investigators attend formal training in the investigation of homicide cases.
Today, the men and women of the Narcotics Task Force constitute an exclusive group within the local law enforcement community. Exclusive, that is, but not secretive – the results of the task force’s efforts are transparent, as evidenced by individual offenders prosecuted in open court; the seizure of cash and assets gained from criminal drug enterprise; and children taken into protective custody, having been removed from the socially and environmentally toxic environments of drug activity. All of these legal proceedings are heard by an impartial judge and/or jury under due process afforded by state and federal constitutions.
While certain NTF business is considered confidential, such as the identity of citizen informants or the capabilities of specialized equipment, the NTF’s structure and administration is public information.
The task force is funded through the sheriff’s department’s budget and supplemented by three state and federal grants. The CalMet grant provides funds for the investigation of offenses directly related to the production, possession and use of methamphetamine. Federal grants include the Edward Byrne Memorial Grant established by Congress to assist local law enforcement agencies with the task-force approach to drug abuse. The other federal grant is provided by the DEA exclusively for the eradication of marijuana. On that note, it should be clarified that the agents on the task force and in the entire department do recognize and respect the Proposition 215 initiative. Drug enforcement action is only taken against marijuana growers whose sole purpose is financial gain, not medical assistance.
In 2007, the NTF took action against five large marijuana grows with suspected links to Mexican drug trafficking organizations. During the 2007 harvest season, 47,382 marijuana plants were seized. The NTF members collectively agree they cannot turn a blind eye toward illegal marijuana. They also agree that the more serious problem in Nevada County is that of methamphetamine and other hard drugs. Over the last few years, the task force has made numerous seizures of methamphetamine and a clandestine methamphetamine lab. Besides meth, task force seizures have included heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, psilocybin, opium, steroids and illegally sold pharmaceutical drugs, such as Vicodin and Oxycontin. Several home invasion robberies and one homicide were linked to marijuana grows in 2007.
In 2003, the Gold Country Kennel Club gave Brighton to the task force – the beginning of the drug canine program. Agent Brighton often appears at public functions, and over the last few years, the NTF has given 33 public presentations, reaching an audience of more than 1,000 citizens. Additional support for the drug canine program is provided by the Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Council of Nevada County.
The NTF provides educational material on drug use symptomology and the cause and effects of illegal drug use, such as murder, robbery, theft and fraud. It actually shows the public what various illegal drugs look like.
Over the past three years, the NTF has made more than 475 drug arrests, executed 135 search warrants and rescued 40 drug-endangered children.
Citizens reporting suspected illegal drug offenses can call the Narcotics Task Force office at 470-2681. Anonymous calls can be received at 265-4178 or 470-2400. The NTF relies on public support. The individual NTF officer’s job is prestigious among law enforcement, but rarely glamorous. These motivated officers should be commended for their dedicated service to the quality of life for citizens of Nevada County.
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