Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Oshkosh reports sharp decline in drug overdose deaths due to stepped up narcotics enforcement


Oshkosh Media
Oshkosh Police Chief Dean M. Smith presents his department's 2019 budget proposal to the Common Council.
By Miles Maguire

The Oshkosh Police Department’s stepped up vice and narcotics enforcement has led to a 57 percent decline in overdose deaths and the recovery of six victims of human trafficking so far this year.

Police Chief Dean M. Smith provided these and other enforcement statistics to the Oshkosh Common Council Oct. 30 as it examined a proposed $565,000 increase in the department’s operating budget.

The department’s Vice and Narcotics Unit has been “hugely successful in combating narcotics trafficking as well as human trafficking here in Oshkosh,” Smith said. He cited these year-to-date statistics about the work of the unit:

  • 104 drug investigations.
  • 122 drug arrests from those investigations.
  • 4,574 grams of marijuana seized.
  • 338 grams of crack cocaine seized.
  • Nearly 82 grams of heroin seized.
  • 439 grams of methamphetamine seized. 
  • 5.8 grams of fentanyl seized.
  • Almost 400 grams of marijuana wax seized.
  • 52 prostitution investigations.
  • Six victims of human trafficking recovered.
The vice-narcotics unit, which consists of three officers and one sergeant, was started in early 2017. Smith credited their efforts with a steep decline in overdose deaths.

“From September 2017 compared to September 2018 our overdose deaths are down 57 percent,” Smith said. “That's an incredible number.” He said overdoses overall are down almost 29 percent.

“Where other communities are seeing a rise in deaths, we’ve seen a dramatic decline,” the police chief said. Overdose deaths have fallen to three from seven in 2017. Overdoses have dropped to 14, from 18.

“It's terrible we have to talk about it, but it is a reality,” he added. “I do want to say that our vice and narcotics unit--and our officers--are doing an exceptional job in combatting those tragedies.”

As a result, he said, the word on the street is that Oshkosh is not a good place to deal drugs.

“We’re hearing from folks through the unit that drug dealers don't want to come to Oshkosh because we have all this work that we're doing, and it's refreshing to hear that,” Smith said.

He also noted the department’s success in cracking down on prostitution and related cases of human trafficking, in which persons are forced to provide sexual services against their will.

“To find those persons who have been victimized over and over again,” he said, is “why we do what we do.”

While most of his presentation was based on positive trends, Smith also noted some challenges. These include the increasing frequency of infusing highly toxic fentanyl into other drugs as a way of boosting their potency. This poses a danger to police who may come in contact with the substance as they collect evidence.

Another trend is the return of methamphetamine. “Across the state and the Midwest [meth] is really the rising trend as it relates to narcotics,” Smith said.

Turnover in the police department is also a concern as the department emphasizes a “team policing philosophy,” Smith said. Six or seven officers will be eligible for retirement in 2019, and about 20 percent of patrol officers have been hired in the last three years.

Although the department is looking for a sizable boost in its $13 million budget, the increase is mostly related to personnel and contractual requirements, said City Manager Mark Rohloff.

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