Drug millage up for renewalPublished 8:07pm Wednesday, June 20, 2012
What: Second renewal of half-mill of property tax for sheriff’s department and Dowagiac Police Department shared Drug Enforcement Team
What it will cost taxpayers: $20 per year for a $200,000 home
When: Aug. 7
Cass County voters will be asked Aug. 7 to renew for the second time a half-mill of property tax, which funds the Drug Enforcement Team shared by the Sheriff’s Office and Dowagiac Police Department.
Sheriff Joseph Underwood and Chief Tom Atkinson initially obtained the mill in 2004 to combat a growing narcotics problem.
Previously, Cass County participated as the smallest partner in the Southwest Michigan Enforcement Team (SWET) with Berrien and Van Buren counties. Voters in August 2008 renewed the levy, which costs the owner of a $200,000 home $20 a year.
The millage supports six investigators — three from each department — a road deputy, an assistant prosecutor, clerical support, treatment, disposal of old prescriptions, education and, increasingly, methamphetamine lab cleanup.
Det. Sgt. Dave Toxopeus told Milton Township Monday night, “We’re responsible for all of Cass County. We don’t spend our time in Dowagiac.”
While citizens are skeptical about winning the national war on drugs, “We can win it here in Cass County,” Toxopeus said. “We’ve taken 619 guns off the streets from drug dealers,” including a .50-caliber rifle. “It’s used to shoot through tanks in the Army. One hundred and nine operational meth labs have been located and dismantled in the last four years. There’s probably another 400 that hadn’t started yet or just finished.” A Vandalia bust found four “cooks” at one house.
In 2009, authorities raided Escape Reality, an adult entertainment business on Pleasant Lake in Edwardsburg, charged dancers with prostitution and drug distribution and took the liquor license away. The property was ultimately donated to a church.
Toxopeus said the drug team provides educational programs to 4-H, Scout and church groups because they volunteer to clean up roadsides for community service projects. “You shake a six-month-old one-pot lab and it starts putting out hazardous gas. We tell them what to look for and what to do if they find one.”
Forfeiture funds from property seizures provide two school resource officers.
Child Protective Services has been involved in 74 cases CCDET investigated. In 36, 78 children were removed. In 38, 91 children were referred to the Department of Human Services.
Toxopeus said 96 pounds of marijuana and $98,000 cash were confiscated from a “safe house for the Mexican cartel” visible from the Dowagiac police station thanks to cooperation with federal officials.
In 2011, a truck carrying 450 pounds of marijuana from Elkhart, Ind., to Grand Rapids was stopped in Marcellus. A 60-year-old woman was caught north of Dowagiac selling prescription medication to an 18-year-old.
With two detectives for the entire county, drug team investigators back up major crimes such as homicides and bank robberies.
It costs $1,000 to $2,000 to clean up each meth lab. There have been 1,297 cases opened and 979 people arrested. The street value of narcotics seized exceeds $6.4 million, plus $180,000 in cash and $757,000 in property.
The yearly average is 185 cases, 140 arrests and seizure of almost $1 million in narcotics, $26,000 in cash and $107,000 in property.
Medical marijuana and synthetic marijuana compound the drug team’s challenges, but 96 percent of those arrested plead guilty without going to trial.
“The drug team has never lost a jury trial,” Toxopeus said.