Meth Messenger: Interview With A Former Narcotics Task Force Officer

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Gila County Meth Coalition

This month's Meth Messenger features an interview with Department of Public Safety Lt. Jamie Escobedo. Lt. Escobedo was a sergeant with the Gila County Narcotics Task Force for many years before his promotion, so he is well acquainted with the meth situation in Gila County.

Messenger (M) -- What types and how much meth activity are you currently seeing in Gila County?

Lt. -- Small amounts so far. Meth labs have decreased over the past six to seven years, due to federal and local regulations on the amount of the ingredients anyone can purchase during a specified time period. There are no large labs currently in production ... that we've found.

(M) -- How has this changed since you were on the Narcotics Task Force? Are you seeing more or less?

Lt. -- Actually we see less production, but increased usage. The Mexican Cartel runs production and distribution like it is big business. They just run the same networks as they do for all the other drugs they manufacture so they can keep the prices down.

Street level amounts usually run about a half a gram and cost about $25. A meth high, as well as other effects, last longer than previously popular drugs.

The Superlabs put out a higher potency and cleaner product than the small local labs can produce with homegrown cooking. The Superlabs also have a way of obtaining large amounts of the needed chemicals that usually come from overseas.

(M) -- What area of the county seems to be the most active with meth use ... from a DPS viewpoint?

Lt. -- It used to be Payson, but any more it's widespread all over the county. We have busted labs in both Young and Tonto Basin due to the remoteness of the area involved.

(M) -- What is DPS doing to try to stem the flow of meth within your district?

Lt. -- On the criminal investigation side we are a part of the Gila County Task Force as well as having one of our own. There is no decrease in the importance of enforcing drug laws. We concentrate on meth information as it comes in. There are always one or more investigations going on.

(M) -- What exact areas does your district cover?

Lt. -- All of Gila County, the northern part of Pinal, northeast Maricopa and parts of Coconino. Even with all this, we are one of the smaller districts.

State Route 77, out of Tucson, is still a major drug corridor. Smugglers seem to know where we are and when. We've beefed up patrols on both 70 and 77. Interdictions have increased and this just started a month ago.

Eventually we want to partner with the Gila County Narcotics Task Force.

We have great cooperation among all law enforcement agencies in Arizona. In fact Arizona is now being looked at by other agencies all over the country because of those partnerships.

Sheriff John Armer has been a tremendous support in allowing DPS and the task force to work so closely together. Because of that high level of support and cooperation we've been able to get the criminal element off of public lands and into jail without fear of the criminal element. I can't express my gratitude to Sheriff Armer and his staff enough. It's a blessing to be able to work with such competent and professional people.

(M) -- How often does meth become involved in your enforcement activities?

Lt. -- Now, it's not necessarily our primary focus, but it does come into play on highway safety. We do enforce all drug laws especially those on the highway. A lot of collisions come from DUIs, either alcohol or drugs. When there is a death or serious injury, it (drugs and/or alcohol use) becomes a felony. Road rage crimes are also included in that. Society is mobile, people get impatient and don't want to be inconvenienced, though these are not necessarily drug or alcohol related.

(M) -- In your opinion, is the fight against meth having any impact on the situation, locally?

Lt. -- It's called a "war on drugs" but that's a cliché. It's an individual decision. There has to be more than enforcement. Gila County is ahead of the curve with the Meth Coalition getting out information and education. Bringing it down to a personal level and making the individual responsible. Meth is being attacked at several different levels, so yes it's having a positive impact.

Enforcement puts them behind bars by bringing charges and following through via the justice system, but it's got to continue with educating the public against drug use and abuse.

Working in Gila County is a major part of my career and the task force will always be a big part of my life. The biggest part of my career has been in criminal investigations/drug enforcement, so this is close to my heart.

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