Police - Money needed to fight drugs

March 13, 1997


Staff Writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Friends of Russell Howard, the 20-year-old Waynesboro man who died of a drug overdose in January, testified at last week's coroner's inquest about Howard's and their frequent drug use - some starting as early as the sixth grade - and about parties they attend where marijuana is smoked, heroin is injected, and cocaine is snorted.

The testimony was not news to police officials in Franklin County, who say they are "inundated" with drug investigations.

But municipal police department officials say they lack resources, money and manpower to handle the problem.

"We're doing what we can with what we have," said Washington Township Police Chief Kurt Braun. "But we've just hit the tip of the iceberg. It takes a lot of investigation and digging to get to the root of the problem."

Statistics show drug arrests are on the rise among municipal and state police departments in the county, and the number of drug-related referrals to the county's Juvenile Probation office more than doubled last year, according to Doug Amsley, juvenile probation supervisor.


In 1995, of the 593 referrals to the juvenile probation office, 30 were drug related, Amsley said.

Last year, there were 63 drug-related referrals out of a total of 716, he said.

"We're seeing more of a problem with drug and alcohol use," Amsley said.

Most juveniles are arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana and crack cocaine, Amsley said. But he said his department is also seeing "a little more of the serious stuff."

Pennsylvania State Police Lt. John Thierwechter, commander of the Chambersburg, Pa., barracks, said there is never a letup in his department's drug arrests.

Last year, state police made 120 drug arrests in Franklin County, Thierwechter said.

A state police tactical narcotics team, a drug strike force, and state police involvement on the Franklin County Drug Task Force complement the efforts of state troopers on regular patrols, he said.

But municipal police officials complain that the county task force and state police efforts are barely making a dent in the rural areas because most of their time is taken up in Chambersburg.

Other police forces are forced to rely on their own manpower and resources to conduct drug investigations, Braun said.

"Drug investigations are not something you do in one day," Braun said. "It's extremely difficult for a small police department to address those items with the resources we have."

Braun explained that most drug investigations require hours of undercover work in which officers must enter the drug culture.

Police officers in the small town of Mercersburg, Pa., are also seeing an increase in drug activity. But limited manpower makes it impossible to follow up every case, Officer Shawn Grove said.

"Without the manpower to follow up on rumors, it's very hard to really know what the exact problem is and how extensive it is," Grove said, adding that officers have to rely on "being at the right place at the right time."

As it is now, municipal police officials say they're discovering drug activity "by accident," mostly through routine vehicle stops.

Last week, three young children in Waynesboro turned over a bag of cocaine to an officer on foot patrol. They had found it hidden behind a set of steps at the Leland Hotel, Waynesboro Police Chief Glenn Phenicie said.

Lack of financing and manpower is also plaguing the Franklin County Task Force, which was established in 1987 to provide an organized, county-wide effort to combat the drug problem, said Franklin County District Attorney John Nelson.

The task force received $13,000 less this year from the state Attorney General's office, which has contributed about $25,000 a year for the last six or seven years, Nelson said.

Sean Duffy, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said the cut in funding doesn't mean a reduced emphasis on the state's drug task forces. The attorney general's office is in the process of "refocusing and redirecting" the programs, Duffy said.

"It should be a county effort because it's a county problem," Braun said. "There's going to have to be a determined effort by every municipality in this county."

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