Elk River City Council considers adding a drug detective

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

Elk River may add a new weapon to the local war on drugs.

Funding for a new drug task force detective is in the city’s preliminary budget for 2015.

Council members heard more about the position during a budget work session Monday and expressed some support for it. But a final decision won’t be made until the budget is finalized later this year.

Under the plan, the Elk River Police Department would assign an existing officer to the Sherburne County Drug Task Force as a detective, and hire a new entry-level officer to fill that vacated position. Total cost is estimated at $67,000 to $77,000.

The council considered a similar proposal last year, but didn’t move forward with it.

Representatives from the Elk River Police Department as well as Chief Deputy Don Starry, Capt. Scott Fildes and Sgt. Ben Zawacki of the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Department were at Monday’s council work session to explain more about the proposed position.

Elk River Police Chief Brad Rolfe said a good share of the crime in Elk River is related to drug abuse.

Recent drug-related crimes have included a home invasion and two armed robberies of a convenience store, he said.

Additionally, Rolfe said a significant number of burglaries and thefts from vehicles can be tied to drug activity.

There also have been drug overdoses in the city and county, he said.

Placing an Elk River officer on the Sherburne County Drug Task Force is a goal for 2015, one part of the total effort to deal with the local drug problem, he said.

About a quarter  of the drug cases opened by the Sherburne County Drug Task Force originate in Elk River, mostly dealing with methamphetamine, marijuana and, more recently, heroin, according to Zawacki.

Sherburne County drug arrests by jurisdiction show that between 2008 and 2013, there were 1,977 drug arrests in Sherburne County, 911 of which were in Elk River. That compares to 132 in Big Lake and 61 in Becker, with the remainder occurring in other parts of Sherburne County.

Since January 2012 there have been 21 drug overdose deaths throughout Sherburne County, eight of which have been in Elk River. This includes overdoses attributed to all drugs, not just heroin.

The Sherburne County Drug Task Force is currently made up of four employees from the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Department.

Fildes said having an Elk River officer added to the drug task force would be beneficial because that officer knows the city and the citizens better than county deputies. Plus, the task force receives information from confidential informants about burglaries and other crimes, not just drug crimes, and that can be passed on to the police department and help solve cases, he said.

Additionally, officers serve a three-year rotation on the drug task force, and then bring those skills back to other jobs in their department.

Council Member Matt Westgaard said it makes sense to dedicate an Elk River officer to an existing drug task force.

Mayor John Dietz also voiced support for adding the position.