Portales seeing more cocaine arrests

By Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer

Portales police officers have seen increases in cocaine-related arrests and a decline of meth-related arrests, but Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said city and county police officers will continue to work together to combat the narcotics problem — no matter what drug it is.

Portales Police Department Chief Jeff Gill said 129 individuals have been arrested on drug-related charges since May of 2005, and the more prevalent drug of choice in those arrests is cocaine.

Berry said police officers have seen this trend more in the last couple of months, although the arrests weren’t broken down for each narcotic category.

“There is a growing trend of cocaine arrests we are finding now because methamphetamine arrests are going through a downward trend because of Meth Watch and other programs,” Gill said.

The Meth Watch Program was passed through a county ordinance in September and went into effect shortly thereafter. The ordinance restricts sale of nasal decongestants, which contain pseudoephedrine used in the manufacture of meth drugs.

As to why cocaine has become the drug of choice in the recent months, that may be tough to figure out.

“It’s hard to tell the availability,” Berry said. “The availability is the number-one factor. It all depends on how much meth or cocaine is available on the market. Almost all of the meth we get is from out of town. Very little of it is manufactured locally. Most of the cocaine we are getting is from south of the border.”

Berry said through suspect questioning and working with other law agencies, police officers are discovering that most of the cocaine is coming from south of the border and meth is coming from Arizona and California.

Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler said increased law enforcement, Meth Watch programs and community awareness have helped decrease the number of meth labs in Curry and Roosevelt counties. Chandler said since March of 2005 only one meth lab has been identified in the district (Roosevelt and Curry counties).

Chandler said in 2004 there were 10 meth labs discovered.

Chandler said the maximum punishment for possession of marijuana (a fourth-degree felony) with an intent to distribute is 18 months in prison. He said the maximum punishment for trafficking cocaine (second-degree felony) is nine years in prison.

Chandler said with new state legislation taking effect Saturday, trafficking meth becomes a second-degree felony with a maximum punishment of nine years in prison.

“We in the DA’s office have zero tolerance for drug trafficking,” Chandler said. “The goal is to try to stop all drug trafficking to the community by sending them to prison.”

Berry said police have seen arrests for narcotics start to rise in Portales. In 2001, there were 38 arrests for narcotics, and in 2002 there were 43, according to the Portales Police Department report. In 2005 there were 118 arrests for narcotics (a 38 percent increase).

From May 2005 to June 2006, there were 129 drug arrests. Berry said at the current rate more narcotics arrests will be made this year than the 118 in 2005. Berry said there are contributing factors for the increase.
“It’s a unified effort, putting all of our resources together,” Berry said. “It’s a combined effort, working with the sheriff’s department and the DA’s office.”

Berry said police officers recently made a drug bust near the city park uncovering 50-54 cocaine bags .

Berry said police officers got a search warrant to inspect a vehicle near the city park on May 27. They made arrests and uncovered a total of 60 grams of cocaine. A month before, police officers seized an ounce of crack-cocaine from another location.

Berry said there are ways community residents can help to stop cocaine use in the community. He said a key is for the police department to be “versatile,” making the proper adjustments to combat the narcotics problem — no matter what drug it is.