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Drug task force reports another successful year

WORTHINGTON -- Since its formation four years ago, the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force (BRDTF) has taken more than $2 million in drugs off the streets of southwest Minnesota, according to Commander Troy Apel.

He recently reported year-end statistics to the task force board and said he is pleased with the 2009 results.

"The numbers show the agents have gotten even better at doing their jobs and increased their effectiveness," Apel stated. "The connections they have made plays a part in that effectiveness, and they are better at working with informants."

The task force came together in 2006, and in that first year 185 active investigations resulted in more than 50 drug arrests and an additional 28 non-drug arrests. After its second year, the BRDTF was named the No. 1 drug task force in the state by Minnesota Gang and Drug Task Force Coordinator Bob Bushman.

"This is a class operation from top to bottom," Bushman told the Daily Globe in January 2009. "They had to prove themselves, and they did in a great manner. This small group of guys is responsible for a lot of felony arrests, and they do a great job of using their resources."

Apel is pleased to see federal indictments from their arrests have increased yearly, doubling from 12 in 2008 to 24 in 2009. He said it shows that his agents are taking cases to the next level.

"The federal cases are larger conspiracies involving more people," he explained. "They go beyond the local small dealers."

In 2009, the agents conducted 793 active investigation, made 97 drug arrests, another 28 non-drug arrests and executed 32 search warrants. They seized more than 3,500 grams of methamphetamine.

In the past four years, they have taken a total of 14 pounds of meth out of the hands of dealers and users, and seized 674 cultivated marijuana plants. They have also seized prescription medications, marijuana, steroids, HGH, cocaine, mushrooms, crack and Ecstasy and confiscated 179 firearms.

The non-drug arrests are important in that many people involved in drugs are also involved in other illegal activities such as burglaries, thefts and violent crime. Informants for drug cases might also have information about other crimes, which the agents are able to pass on to investigators. And when a criminal is jailed on drug charges, Apel said, they are off the street and unable to commit other crimes.

"I'm very excited about what the agents have accomplished," Apel said. "They are doing a great job. The cases are all very complete and easy for the prosecutors to handle, and we are making the impact that our bosses wanted from the start."

An anonymous text message tip line called tip411 was implemented in 2009, and Apel said they have gotten great results. Anyone can text 372DTF to 847411 and send a message that is 100 percent anonymous.

"We have received a lot of tips off that line," Apel stated.

The task force agents have also educated approximately 1,000 people per year about drug and gang awareness, providing free presentations for civil groups and organizations.

"There is a lot of general public curiosity about drugs and gangs, some are concerned about their neighborhoods and what they can do to help, and some are just curious about what we do." Apel explained. "We are available for presentations - we just a couple weeks notice."