West Valley City • The man was clearly high.
The man, wanted on a third-degree felony warrant, stared into an officer’s flashlight despite repeated admonitions to avoid looking directly into the light.
Number of narcotics-related arrests made by West Valley City police
983 (Jan-June 2011)
939 (Jan-June 2012)
911 (Jan-June 2013)
He rocked back and forth when officers told him to try to stand still as he voluntarily attempted to pass a sobriety test.
When West Valley City Officer Jacob Hill asked him to close his eyes and tell them when he believed 30 seconds had passed, his eyelids flickered abnormally as he struggled to measure out 30 seconds (he successfully waited out 18 before giving up).
The man said he used methamphetamine hours before, but officers said signs pointed to more recent use.
With the dissolution of the city’s narcotics squad in late December amid allegations of corruption, misconduct and evidence mishandling and more than 120 tainted cases, a group of dedicated patrol officers — including Hill — has stepped in to fill the gap.
And — at least thus far — their dedication seems to be working.
Despite eliminating the approximately eight-detective narcotics squad, narcotics-related arrests are holding steady — down only about 3 percent compared with the same six months in 2012, records provided to The Salt Lake Tribune show.
"A lot of our patrol guys, that’s kind of their niche," said Sgt. Jason Hauer, West Valley City police spokesman. "They’re pretty proactive when it comes to drug problems. It’s their drive. They like looking for drug problems and drug cases."
The most complex cases are being handled by the department’s special investigations unit or, if necessary, by using the department’s representative on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s narcotics metropolitan task force.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his staff hasn’t seen any noticeable disruptions.
"It’s been business as usual," he said. "We haven’t noticed anything statistically different in our case filings in general and from West Valley in particular. We haven’t seen anything that would cause us alarm or concern."
Hill says making narcotics busts is one of his favorite parts of the job. Since the narcotics squad was eliminated, he’s had more of a chance to pursue it through writing and serving search warrants, investigating tips from residents and making arrests.
"I’ve really enjoyed it," Hill said. "I don’t know that I would have been pushed or challenged to that point [if the narcotics unit still existed.]"
Drugs are typically at the root of a number of other crimes plaguing the city’s residents — such as burglaries, car prowls and robberies — as drug users prey on law-abiding residents to fund their addictions, Hill said.
A by-the-book cop, Hill and the patrol officers he works with do their drug investigations systematically. They know where the big dope homes are and keep an eye on them, slowly building cases over weeks. They know which hotels usually harbor the addicts. When they’re seeking permission to search, Hill takes the time to read the search warrant consent form.
Officers work the drug cases in between active calls for service from residents.
One of his first calls on a recent night shift was for child welfare check after a woman allegedly used drugs in the home of the child’s father.
When Hill and two other officers pull up to the home around 10 p.m., the shirtless father was standing at the entrance, smoking a cigarette. He tells the officers that someone repeatedly keeps calling police on him to make false reports so he when he saw the police cars stop a short distance away, he assumed the officers were there for him.
He allows Hill and the two officers to come in. This time officers ask for permission to search the house.
After Hill reads a consent to search form, the man and his girlfriend both sign it, granting officers permission to search.Next Page >
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