BAXTER -- The possibility of a Baxter police narcotics officer will come down to the finances.
The Baxter City Council Tuesday approved having city staffers meet with police officers to find funding for a narcotics officer to work with the Lakes Area Drug Investigative Division.
"The longer we wait the deeper a hole we dig ourselves into," said Mayor Gary Muehlhausen. "I'd like to get this in as fast as possible.
"I know, to a person, this council is committed, but the problem we're facing is with the budget."
The request for a narcotics officer was first presented to the city council at its Feb. 21 retreat. On Tuesday, Baxter Police Sgt. Jim Exsted and Crow Wing County Sheriff's investigator Sgt. Dave Larson, again made a plea to the council.
"We're looking for guidance from the council," said Exsted. "Help us determine the route we're going to go. We can sit back and hope it's not a problem, but that may be naive. There again we've probably had our heads stuck in the sand."
The city of Baxter contributes $1,500 a year to LADID, yet 23-24 percent of the drug task force's calls within the past two years have been in Baxter. The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department, along with the Brainerd Police Department, each has a law enforcement officer working on the force with the county paying for the majority of the costs.
And this year, Baxter has already generated six calls for the LADID. Exsted said a fifth of his workload this year has focused on drug cases.
"We've been busy," he said, noting last week Baxter police and LADID officers arrested three people on felony-level drug charges after methamphetamine with a value of $26,000 was found at Comfort Suites in Baxter. "We have reason to believe we may have tapped into a (drug) pipeline coming up into central Minnesota."
Larson said the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension recently decided to cut back on methamphetamine lab cleanup, meaning it will solely be the responsibility of local agencies.
Another setback for drug investigations in Crow Wing County was the death of BCA special agent Tom Wyatt, who died in a car accident on March 3. Wyatt was responsible for narcotics enforcement.
"Obviously his loss is great to us. He can't be replaced," said Larson. "But we need to continue to do the investigations."
In 2002, 60 of LADID's 117 cases involved methamphetamine and methamphetamine labs -- 51 percent of its caseload. Many of these cases originated in Baxter, where the chemicals and products to produce methamphetamine are often bought. Several Baxter businesses along Highway 371 North have been working with narcotics investigators to help arrest illegal drug-makers.
The LADID has two full-time narcotics agents. The drug task force would like to have up to four investigators within the next 12-18 months.
The LADID was created on Aug. 1, 2001, after the dissolution of the NET VI Drug Task Force. It is a multi-jurisdictional task force involving all law enforcement agencies in Crow Wing County. The major emphasis of the LADID is the investigation and enforcement of narcotics in Crow Wing County.
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