CADILLAC — If you pay attention to the community in Northern Michigan and the Cadillac area, it should come as no surprise that drugs are a big issue.
Marijuana, prescription drugs, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine all have a footprint in the area. Some, however, are more prevalent than others. Also with the legalization of recreational marijuana now in effect, 2019 likely will see a dramatic drop in use and possession arrests.
For 36 years, the Traverse Narcotics Team has been on the frontlines of trying to get illegal drugs off the streets of the greater Cadillac area and its surrounding counties. TNT is a multijurisdictional task force governed under an Inter-Local Agreement between the counties of Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Missaukee, Osceola, Wexford and the Michigan State Police.
TNT releases annual reports and for 2018 what it showed was troubling but not at all surprising.
2018 IN A NUTSHELL
The annual TNT report includes both narrative and statistical data for review. It also highlights some of TNT’s accomplishments during any given year. During the past year, TNT investigated a total of 339 cases with 198 arrests. In 2017, TNT investigated 313 cases with 210 arrests.
During 2018, TNT reported while there has been significant coverage in the media regarding the national opioid crisis, it is not the most prevalent substance TNT deals with. While opioids are a major focus for the drug team, crystal methamphetamine occupied the greatest portion of the team’s investigative activity.
TNT also put a focus on investigating and combating human trafficking in 2018. Throughout the Michigan State Police’s Seventh District, TNT arrested more than 40 individuals for soliciting prostitution. TNT continues to allocate manpower and resources in 2019 to further that work started last year.
The operations in Northern Michigan, which began in January 2018 and concluded in September 2018, were just part of a larger, statewide initiative by the Michigan State Police to combat human trafficking. In April 2018, the MSP announced uniform and plainclothes personnel would be involved in several human trafficking enforcement operations. These events took place in Gaylord, Cadillac, Alpena, Traverse City and various other locations across Northern Michigan.
In August, the Michigan State Police announced 35 arrests were made in seven counties during nine enforcement operations, including in Wexford County. Of those 35 arrested, 73 criminal counts were levied, with 70 of those criminal counts evenly split between solicitation for prostitution and using a computer to commit a crime, police said. The remaining arrest counts involved marijuana possession, oxycodone possession and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
HITTING CLOSE TO HOME
TNT investigated a total of 339 cases with 198 arrests, and of those 198 suspects arrested, there were 457 charges brought against them. A majority of those arrested in 2018, 82, were suspects in Wexford County, followed by Grand Traverse with 38.
Wexford County Prosecutor Jason Elmore said once again Wexford County is showing the most activity. In the previous year, there were 210 arrests made with 427 crimes charged of which 159 arrests were made in Wexford County while 105 were made in Grand Traverse County.
Considering Grand Traverse County has roughly three times the amount of people living in it than Wexford does, it is easy to say Wexford County has a drug problem.
“The most telling TNT stat from 2018 is that out of TNT’s eight counties and 198 cases, 41% were in Wexford County. We are not spending enough on law enforcement, and we certainly are not doing enough for meaningful rehabilitation,‘ Elmore said. “That means our streets are less safe. It means high rates of property crimes. It means less safe workplaces and schools.‘
Elmore said according to the Michigan State Police 2018 report required by the Methamphetamine Reporting Act, Wexford County is the No. 1 county in northern lower Michigan for methamphetamine arrests. According to the Traverse Narcotics Team 2017 Annual Report, Wexford County, and particularly its Clam Lake and Haring townships, are in the lead for drug arrests, he said.
“Considering TNT covers eight counties, including Grand Traverse, which has three times the population but 50% fewer arrests, Wexford County’s lead speaks to a staggering drug problem,‘ he said.
When it comes to other counties in the Cadillac area, Missaukee County had 14 criminal arrests in 2018 while Osceola County had 17.
TYPES OF DRUG CASES
Although the opioid epidemic is gaining national attention, when it comes to local arrests, prescription drugs are not as prevalent as other illicit substances.
Prescription drugs only accounted for 14 cases for the eight-county region TNT covers. When you compare that to cases involving methamphetamine, which was 47, meth is more than three times more prevalent. Heroin cases, however, were only slightly higher than prescription drug cases with 15.
When it comes to cocaine, the numbers of the TNT report show there were two more than the reported prescription drug cases. The report showed in 2018 there were 13 cocaine cases and three crack cocaine cases.
When it comes to the most prevalent drug cases, the report showed marijuana to be above and beyond the biggest generator of work for TNT. In 2018, in the eight-county region, there were 56 cases involving marijuana, which is about four times as many cases as there were regarding prescription drugs.
Then there are the dollars associated with each of the drugs.
There was $1,945.11 worth of prescription drugs taken off the streets in 2018 including depressants and opiates, which equated to roughly 353 pills. There was nearly $24,200 worth of methamphetamine or crystal meth on the streets that were confiscated. There was about $28,375 of heroin confiscated, but by far marijuana is the most prevalent controlled substance in spite of medical marijuana being legal in the state and voters passing a ballot proposal to legalize its recreational use.
When it comes to marijuana cases, they include flower, actual plants, wax/oils and edibles. There was nearly $732,000 worth of marijuana confiscated from those 56 cases. Compared to 2017 when $2 million worth of marijuana was confiscated from 63 cases, a downward trend had already begun.
Elmore said what the TNT report shows is undeniable — the region has a drug problem.
He said while the numbers show there is an issue, it also only shows the suspects that are caught, and some of those suspects are likely to be repeat offenders.
“Drugs are Wexford County’s No. 1 problem. They destroy lives, increase property crimes, makes streets less safe, make workplaces more dangerous, impact our schools, and so much more,‘ he said. “No one wants to be an addict. Stealing, lying, and doing whatever they can for a high is no way to live.‘
Elmore also said the “war on drugs‘ is not one that is just fought by law enforcement but also includes his office as well as courts and corrections. Unfortunately, the corrections system can only offer limited rehabilitation programs to offenders. As a result, Elmore said his office has continued to encourage people to get help before they get caught.
“Once they get caught, however, we must enforce the laws as given to us. When the user or dealer is caught, we hear the same story day after day. It is usually one of blame and not one of acceptance of responsibility,‘ he said. “Life is a series of choices. We all make good and bad ones. We alone are responsible for those choices and their consequences.‘
Elmore said there are more drug offenders going to prison and this is in large part due to the efforts of TNT and his office working together to prosecute these cases aggressively. Those efforts saw a nearly 10% increase in the prison commitment rate in Wexford County. While some of the people sent to prison were given second chances, Elmore said they chose to stay in “the drug world,‘ which his office and law enforcement take as a request to go back to jail or prison.