New task force battles drugs in Portage County

Kelly Mills

The Portage County Drug Task Force is already in full force.

Members of the task force signed the provisions for membership in December, but enforcement didn’t begin until early this month.

“Members have been sworn in as deputies for the limited purpose of the drug task force,” Sheriff Duane Kaley said. “As such, they have a countywide jurisdiction.”

The task force consists of the sheriff’s office, the Portage County Prosecutor’s Office and membership police departments, which are Kent, Ravenna, Aurora, Brimfield, Windham and Streetsboro.

Each of these police departments provides an officer to help with investigation and enforcement of drug-related issues across Portage County.

Kaley said Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci was the key to establishing the task force. The prosecutor’s job as part of the task force is to provide legal counsel and help with the process of obtaining search warrants and indicting those involved in drug trafficking in the county.

Kent Police Chief Jim Peach said his department has provided one undercover officer for the task force. Each officer has countywide jurisdiction and reports to the sheriff on matters relating to the drug task force, not his individual department.

Two weeks ago, the Portage County Drug Task Force made a bust on a methamphetamine lab in Kent.

“Based on their investigation, three individuals were arrested and a meth lab was seized,” Peach said.

As of Friday, Vigluicci said three meth labs had been busted in the previous 10 days.

Kaley said methamphetamine production and use has become a major problem across the county. He said the drug is extremely addictive and dangerous and the production process can be highly explosive.

Another problem with the increase in methamphetamine cases is a result of the addictive nature of the drug.

“When we find a meth lab, burglary goes hand-in-hand,” Kaley said. Users and producers have been known to steal money and items to sell for cash to buy the drugs.

Vigluicci said that last year out of 745 felony cases, 258 were drug related. Those numbers were up from 2004 when 255 of 583 felony cases were drug related.

Much of the increase in felony cases was an increase in property theft crimes including burglaries, thefts and robberies. Vigluicci said a majority of these added cases were indirectly related to drugs.

Although the Kent State Police Department is not a member of the task force, Peach said officers can cover campus as part of their countywide jurisdiction. Kaley also said the task force will assist the Kent State officers if the department asks for help in a particular case.

Vigluicci said it is important for citizens to know that the task force is employing undercover officers that have countywide jurisdiction. Often, these officers will try to purchase drugs from producers. In addition to meth, officers are targeting crack, mushrooms, OxyContin and major marijuana cases.

Contact public affairs reporter Kelly Mills at [email protected].