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County police agencies battle against drug trafficking increases

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OGDENSBURG - Tackling St. Lawrence County’s drug trafficking problem is an uphill battle, officials say.

Since he became the department’s chief narcotics officer in 2007, Ogdensburg City Police Det. Daniel Mousaw, with the help of fellow officers, and federal, state and county agencies, has overseen 161 felony drug arrests in the city.

With two months left before the end of the year, the department is expected to surpass its 2007 record of 29 felony drug arrests.

“We are fighting an uphill battle,” Mr. Mousaw said. “The drug problem is the worst I have ever seen it.”

St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin M. Wells said while there are increases across the board, each portion of the county is fighting its own drug crisis.

Crack cocaine sales make up the bulk of the drug arrests in Ogdensburg. Of the 161 drug arrests since 2007, 115 of them were the result of crack cocaine sales or possessions, according to data collected by the Ogdensburg police department.

Police Chief Timmy J. Currier said it’s a different story in Massena.

“There is certainly a demand and market for heroin in particular,” he said. “We are working on dealing with the supply and demand through education and working with treatment providers — everyone in the field, not just law enforcement. Our goal is to hit this from every possible angle in order to impact it.”

Mr. Wells said drug crime is increasing in the north country because more drug dealers are moving into the area from cities such as Watertown, Syracuse, and New York City.

“There is a lot of traffic coming into our county jail, with several of these people not coming from the north country, but there are even more people coming to replace them,” Mr. Wells said.

Officials agree that it comes down to basic economics: supply and demand.

Crack cocaine typically sells for $100 a gram or .1 to .2 grams in a packet for just over $30 in the north country, Mr. Wells said.

“That’s sometimes twice as much as they would get in a city,” Mr. Wells said. “This is a problem that is going on all over the state. I just think this market hasn’t been tapped or tested quite as much. We have an addiction problem here and dealers are taking advantage.”

While the sale of drugs is not new or specific to the county, trends in the upstate drug trade have changed.

When Police Chief Richard J. Polniak began his career in 1985 as a patrolman in the Ogdensburg Police department, a narcotics investigations unit was put in place a year later.

“Back then we had a lot more locals dealing,” Mr. Polniak said. “Now we are seeing more transient dealers with criminal backgrounds.”

Many local dealers are meeting suppliers in major cities or in prison and encouraging them to take their business upstate, Mr. Polniak said.

The Internet is also a way for drug dealers to scope out the north country market.

“They are meeting girls and taking up residence with them, which has spurred a domino effect in which their friends will also bring others up,” Mr. Currier said.

In an effort to discourage drug dealers from taking up residence in Massena, the village is taking code enforcement action on blighted properties.

“We have a housing market that benefits them,” Mr. Currier said. “There are a lot of places to rent cheap and a lot of renters renting homes that do not meet housing code.”

The village’s Nuisance Abatement Law stipulates that if there is known drug activity at a residence on more than two occasions, the property can be seized after a hearing.

“It’s to make the landlords more careful of whom they rent to,” he said. “It also gives landlords the necessary steps to evict and get rid of renters if they discover they are using or selling drugs.”

Mr. Polniak said drug arrests are often the result of impact patrols, cooperation between multiple state and local agencies, lengthy investigations and the help of informants and residents.

“We’re very fortunate to have many residents who submit tips,” Mr. Polniak said. “Residents don’t want this in their community, and they are speaking up.”

However, Mr. Polniak says the public’s efforts may be overshadowed by a lack of support from the county, state and federal governments.

In August, Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. announced the federal government will no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, non-violent drug offenders in an effort to cut down on prison costs.

“But violence is associated with drug-dealing,” Mr. Polnaik said. “The people who want that heroin or that cocaine are out there committing crimes and robbing, although not so much in this area, at gun point or stealing things or burglarizing homes and those are the more violent crimes associated.”

Mr. Mousaw said with the increase of drugs has led to an increase of other forms of crime in the community.

“As long as you the problems of drug trafficking and sales, a clientele base, and the use and abuse of illegal substances, you will be plagued with incidents ranging from disturbances of the peace and petty crimes, to major, violent crimes,” Mr. Mousaw said.

A need for drugs compels some users to steal from yards, cars, homes and businesses.

“Fortunately, none of these burglaries so far have led to a confrontation between residents of the home and intruders in Ogdensburg,” Mr. Mousaw said.

Another issue is the volume of thefts form local box stores and other retailers. Generators, chainsaws, and large, flat screen televisions are all being carried out of stores on a daily basis, Mr. Mousaw said.

“The amount and frequency of these thefts, as well as the value of the merchandise being removed from these stores is truly alarming,” he said.

The need for drugs has even led to more violent crimes, as in the case of Ralph E. “Gene” Lawton, 83, who died after a scuffle when robbers took $1,000 and prescription drugs from him.

Mr. Polniak says there are any crimes also go unreported, especially when it comes to crime between drug dealers and users.

“But those crimes can still pose its own threat to the community’s safety,” Mr. Polniak said.

Mr. Polniak said the struggle to keep drug dealers off the street is worsened by a lack of deterrents.

“It’s in the court’s system is where our problem lies – plea bargaining down, less sentencing guidelines, etc. – there is no deterrent. It’s like raising kids. If a kid does something wrong and has no consequence to deter that behavior, then they are going to keep on doing it.”

Throughout his time with the department, Mr. Polniak said his department has spent an inordinate amount of time investigating and arresting repeat offenders.

“It may be that judges and the DA are caught within the parameters of the law, I don’t know,” he said. “But until we solve that, it’s going to keep adding to the problem.”

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