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Fight meth through community awareness
By Teresa Herriman
When thieves broke into several businesses in Bonney Lake, they didn't just take cash; they stole business records and customer checks. The theft was devastating to the small businesses involved, but may also have serious repercussions for the customers who could find their identities stolen as a result.
The Bonney Lake Police Department is working to recover the stolen records. In the meantime, they are attempting to raise the awareness of property crimes and the reason they are so prevalent in the area. The reason is methamphetamine addiction.
Recently, officers Brian Byerly and Dana Hubbard spoke to a gathering of businessmen and women at a meeting of the Bonney Lake Chamber of Commerce.
Byerly, also a member of the Metro SWAT team, previously worked for more than two years with the Sumner Police Department. He has also been with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office. Through the years he has seen east Pierce County distinguish itself as the third-largest producer of methamphetamine. Along with the dubious honor comes a rash of personal and property crimes, as meth addicts seek to support their habits.
"Meth re-wires the brain to only want one thing - meth," Byerly said. "That's why you see a lot of crimes."
A heavy user will need $100 a day to feed his or her habit. Someone who is that addicted can't keep a job, so they turn to crime, forging checks, stealing identities, cars and just about anything else, Byerly explained.
The Bonney Lake officers are trying to provide community awareness training to help regular people be "the eyes and ears of the police department," Byerly said.
While crime, violence and the abuse and neglect of children present at meth manufacturing sites continues to increase, the effect of harboring such a high concentration of meth-addicted adults goes beyond crime. Meth creates a significant threat to the health and safety of everyone in the community, Byerly said. Some of the compounds used in the manufacturing process are a hazard to public health.
"I retrieved part of (a meth lab) in a Bonney Lake Elementary School dumpster," Byerly said.
Methamphetamine, commonly called "meth," is a powder that can be eaten, snorted, injected or smoked. Addicts have described the effect as "cocaine times 10." The drug serves as a stimulant on the central nervous system, creating a high that lasts about 12 hours, the officers explained.
According to Byerly, there are an estimated 900,000 Americans in 2000 who are chronic meth users. The primary attraction is the ease in which the drug can be manufactured. Many addicts make their own drugs in "habit labs," although major manufacturers in Mexico generate 100 to 200 pounds of meth a month.
In the 1980s, it took 48 hours to manufacture meth. These days, habit lab-operators can make the drug in less than half an hour.
"A talking monkey can (make meth)," Byerly said sarcastically.
The key ingredient is pseudoephedrine, a drug used primarily in cold medications. Byerly and Hubbard asked store owners to be on the lookout for customers buying large quantities of over-the-counter cold medications.
As store owners have been keeping pseudoephedrine-based medications locked up and limiting the number of bottles sold per customer, addicts have learned to seek other sources. Lately, large-scale pseudoephedrine distribution companies have found a lucrative outlet in local convenient stores. Storeowners, enticed by the huge amounts of money, sell the drug out the back door.
The penalties, if caught, are staggering. Anyone who sells, transfers or otherwise furnishes illegal quantities of substances used in the production of meth could face 10 years to life in prison.
The police department is asking local vendors to be alert to suspicious activity. Byerly warns, however, that meth addicts can be exceptionally violent. Don't be a hero, he said. Call 9-1-1 and be a good witness.
Do not touch possible meth lab ingredients, he added. Contamination from exposure to some of the more dangerous chemicals can occur in less than three seconds.
The Bonney Lake Police are asking business people to raise awareness at their work place by posting informational flyers for employees.
Byerly recommended commercial businesses use a security system to protect themselves and customer records. Businesses can also program cash registers and scanner to alert cashiers or managers to suspicious purchases. When in doubt, refuse to sell the products, he said.
Meth addiction and related crime cannot be easily stopped. Only 6 percent of meth addicts successfully recover and more adults become addicted every year, Byerly said. The best police can hope for is to make doing business so difficult, the addicts are forced to move somewhere else.
Citizens are asked to report suspicious activity to the Bonney Lake Police Department by calling 9-1-1 or in the case of non-emergencies, 253-863-2218. The Pierce County Sheriff's lab team can be reached at 253-798-4721.
Teresa Herriman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.