Northfield Police Chief Mark Taylor answered some questions I had earlier this month via email regarding the ongoing investigative work the relatively new Rice County Drug Task Force has been conducting. The interview is part of my ongoing observation of Northfield’s struggle to curb heroin use among young people throughout the city. The police chief’s answers are in quotes and boxed in gray.
Some people have said to me that they don’t understand why police “picked on” the drug dealers that were arrested in Northfield in October.
“It is difficult to respond to anonymous and very general info. The concept of selling drugs is illegal in the State of Minnesota and in most cases is a felony. The law deals with persons differently depending upon the severity of the crime, the punishment is meant to fit the crime. These cases were investigated thoroughly and professionally and there wasn’t anyone picked on.”
Some of those people think true drug dealers are in the Cities, running large operations and committing acts of violence.
“I have to ask: What is the definition of a true drug dealer? I know we all have an image but, that varies for everyone. Police officers have to follow the state law definition of the “sale and purchase of illegal drugs”. I think we all recognize that there are drugs sold and purchased in virtually every community. My job as the police chief is to deal with crimes and issues in Northfield. I certainly work cooperatively with other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies sharing pertinent information. I must however concentrate on issues and crimes that are occurring in our community, especially crimes that have such a large impact on our community.”
Some people have told me the former police chief didn’t believe in arresting young people for crimes like the ones the suspects are being charged with because that wasn’t the best way to solve the problem. Can you tell me more about the drug task force’s philosophy of how to stop drugs in cities like Northfield?
“I think the idea is to work cooperatively with all professionals and groups in Northfield and Rice County. This being enforcement of illegal drug activity, education, and other community groups and opportunities that currently exist. Also to look for more opportunities that may arise in our goal of being pro-active in the fight against illegal narcotics.”
I’ve had a couple of people tell me that they gave tips about drug dealing to police officers and the officers appeared to not pay much attention to the concern.
“It is hard for me to respond to questions when I do not know who is saying this, who the officer is, when and where this happened. With such little information, I am not able to respond to that question.”
How are officers trained to behave in a situation where a person on the street gives them a tip?
“They are trained to ask investigatory questions. Questions that help us to verify information and give us hopefully enough information that we can follow up on. These are investigative skills officers receive before and after hire.”
What are the different ways police officers get information about drug dealing?
“Investigative techniques utilized by law enforcement. Citizens calling police and giving us information. People witnessing suspicious behavior and notifying police. Police enforcing traffic violations. There are many other ways, these are just a few examples.”
What are the most important sources of information?
“Probably the public and what they see and hear, at least initially, followed by police following up with thorough investigations.”
Could I get a copy of the budget that would show me how much money the county, or the Northfield Dept., has spent to combat drug dealers? I’d like to see specifically just how much money and resources it takes to put a dent in a problem like this one.
“We have one officer assigned to the task force so let me break down the figures.
The following are City of Northfield approximate costs. They are the approximate costs for our involvement in narcotics investigation and a breakdown of what those costs are.
- Salary for one full-time officer with benefits: $60,000.
- One city vehicle and fuel: $4000.
- Insurance for said vehicle: $200.
- Annual fees to Rice County Drug Task Force: $4500.
- Supervisory costs to supervise agent and our involvement in the task force. Portion of salaries of investigative captain and police chief: $15,000
- Equipment costs, including computer, phone, cell phone, other office and field equipment purchase and rental: $3000
- Total approximate cost: $86,700″
How much money is budgeted for next year?
“The costs should be similar with a minimal cost of living salary adjustment. I would anticipate a general increase to all of the items. I would approximate a four percent increase, making the cost approximately $90,168 for 2009. There is not a specific budget for narcotics investigation. It comes out of the regular police budget. I use monies currently from officer salaries, dept. equipment, fuel, dept vehicle costs, etc.”
How much money would the task force need to operate at its best?
“That’s difficult to answer. Probably $30,000 more. ‘Buy money’ is needed to conduct these investigations, and we need more funding for vehicles and improvement of technology. Lastly, being a large proponent of training, we could use more access to training dollars for investigators. With that said, I actually feel very fortunate to have one officer dedicated to narcotics investigation. If we get overwhelmed or need assistance we can rely upon the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Narcotics Division. We did that in our most recent investigation and arrests of heroin.”
What’s the best way for a citizen to express a concern to the police?
“It would probably depend on the severity of the concern. Let’s use as an example of drug intelligience or suspicious activity. They should call our investigative staff and share the concern with us. Again, the more we learn, the more likely we can deal with the issue. If it is something that should be dealt with right away, something that is currently occurring (examples would be a loud party, reckless driving in a neighborhood, etc.) we would want the person to call our dispatch and have an officer respond at the time it is occurring. The dispatch phone number is 507-645-4475.”