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Utah police finding an ‘alarming’ amount of drugs on the state’s highways

First Published      Last Updated Feb 17 2017 02:07 pm

Law enforcement » About 10 percent of cases are solved, official estimates.

It took seven seconds for Bear, the Utah Highway Patrol K9, to find drugs in a staged drug bust outside the UHP office in Murray on Wednesday.

With the help of dogs like Bear, the UHP and State Bureau of Investigation have seized 110 pounds of methamphetamine in the past six weeks. Add to that 75 pounds of marijuana, 2 pounds of hash, over 5 pounds of heroin, prescription pills and a weapon, and dogs like Bear have been off to an active 2017.

"It is alarming," said Sgt. Steve Salas, criminal interdiction coordinator and canine handler at the Utah Highway Patrol. "It is overwhelming. You just deal with it case by case."

The Utah Department of Public Safety demonstrated how it has discovered many of the drugs being transported across the state's highways. Agents wedged a piece of paper with narcotics on it between a door on a car and brought out Bear.

The handler walked the dog to the front of the car, gave it a command and began walking toward the back of the car. A split second after passing the piece of paper, Bear stopped, turned and started barking with nose pressed against the drugs.

Salas said the department last year brought in about 500 pounds of meth.

The highway patrol and the investigations unit have tried to identify the source of the drugs. After seizing drugs on the highway, investigators interview suspects and try to see where they were coming from, where they were going and whom they were working for.

Still, authorities are swimming upstream. Salas said the department probably solves about 10 percent of cases.

"Based on the amount of methamphetamine out of California, you have to look at Mexico and how cartels are organized," Salas said.

Authorities said that, despite big-ticket busts this year, they're still catching drugs passing through Utah because there's a market for them in the United States.

"Part of it is ... if the demand is there, the supply is going to be there," Capt. Tyler Kotter said. "You talk about there being a lot of methamphetamine, that's because people are buying it."


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