Drugs going through Utah continue to increase, public safety officials say
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Without a doubt, Randy Riches knows he has a dangerous job. But, when you’re a sergeant on the Utah Highway Patrol’s Drug Interdiction Team, there is a bit more risk.
“There are a lot of bad guys out there who need to be caught and taken off the streets,” he said.
Riches deals with drug traffickers who often are willing to do whatever it takes to get away. Even still, he feels it’s important to catch them for society’s sake.
“We have a lot of people who are addicted to these substances. You have people, who are making the drugs, trying to push them,” said Riches. “It hurts families, and it hurts all of us when you have people who commit robberies and other crimes to feed their addictions.”
Riches has also noticed something else when it comes to drugs. In past few years, it seems to be getting worse, especially with drug trafficking.
“Legalized marijuana states have become incubators for organized crime,” said John Huber, who is the U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah.
Huber was part of a press conference in downtown Salt Lake City Wednesday, along with Utah Public Safety commissioner Keith Squires and special agent Brian Besser with the Drug Enforcement Agency.
They talked about how organized crime groups have found an opportunity to make money by transporting legalized marijuana to non-legalized states.
That transport also includes heroin, cocaine, meth, and other drugs which go in and out of Utah because of its geographical location.
“Two of the nation’s most trafficked highways pass through our state,” Squires said. “Those are I-70 and I-80.”
In 2017 alone, Utah Highway Patrol troopers discovered a total of 41 pounds of heroin, 87 pounds of cocaine, 497 pounds of methamphetamine, and 4,500 pounds of marijuana.
According to the Department of Public Safety, those efforts helped disrupt 17 multi-state and six Utah drug trafficking organizations.
Information from those cases led to leads for 38 different states.
“These people who are transporting these drugs across the country, to and through Utah, are part of organized crime syndicates,” Huber said. “It’s more than a fulltime job for us, as coordinated law enforcement professionals, to fight against the Mexican cartels who are bringing for-profit huge amounts of drugs on our highways.”
For those criminal organizations, the reward is often worth the risk. In many cases, the leaders of those organizations use runners to transport their drugs.
“They factor in cost of doing business. They expect to lose a certain amount of drugs. What they really don’t like to lose is money,” Besser said. “They write drugs off, but they don’t like losing money. We want to take both. It’s incremental in this state that we have good laws that enable law enforcement to not only seize drugs, but to seize the proceeds that facilitate that.”
The first line of defense in drug trafficking cases is often highway patrol troopers. Many of them, though, work alone and in rural areas. That can be difficult when working drug enforcement.
“We’re dealing with a multi-billion dollar enterprise here,” Besser said. “The drug trafficking organizations are, hey out man us, they out gun us, they have better technology often times than we do. We know this. Their intelligence aspects are phenomenal.”
Still, though, most troopers will say it’s worth the fight. That’s why they do the job.
“Is it a battle we’re ever going to win, is it a war we’re ever going to win? Probably not,” Sgt. Riches said. “But, if we give up, then we’ve completely lost.”
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