Scott County Sheriff's Department to target marijuana operations

Friday, May 7, 2010

BENTON, Mo. -- With the help of a federal grant, the Scott County Sheriff's Department hopes to begin putting more emphasis on stopping marijuana growing.

The department, among others throughout Missouri, is now eligible for the grant after sending an agency representative to the 2010 Marijuana Eradication Conference in Osage Beach, Mo. Scott County Lt. Jerry Bledsoe, with Sgt. Branden Caid, attended the conference in mid-April.

Bledsoe said the grant money, which has been up to $1,200 in past years, will primarily be used to fund overtime hours for officers to investigate marijuana growing operations. The application has just been submitted to the Missouri Sheriffs' Association, he said, and the department hasn't heard how much it will be allocated.

"Most of your rural communities, especially in Southeast Missouri, they have a hard enough time budgeting for their overtime, and marijuana eradication takes time," Caid said. "When you can participate in a grant like this and get a little extra money, it really helps out because you can get your off-duty guys to come and give a hand and they can be compensated for it."

An officer from the Dallas Police Department led much of the conference training, discussing with participants how to efficiently use informants and conduct undercover investigations.

The officer shared with participants his experience working narcotics investigations, including undercover activity that didn't go as planned, according to Caid.

"It was a very, very informative training. We took a lot of interesting ideas from them. Hopefully we can implement them in the way we do some things," Caid said.

With the number of methamphetamine labs increasing in Southeast Missouri, investigators have become overloaded, causing marijuana growing operations to be overlooked. In Scott County, which has three investigators, the small grant could be beneficial, Caid said.

"The sale of marijuana is still a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States," Caid said. "Along the Mississippi River, there's a large part of the county that's riverfront -- ideal for a lot of grow operations."

Growing marijuana indoors is just as common as growing marijuana outdoors, Caid said, but indoor growing is harder to investigate.

"You have to go to your electric companies and maybe get a subpoena to compare ratios of electricity being used by one house to other houses," Caid said, citing an example. "You just have to do a lot more to find it."

Bledsoe said they'll also use grant funding to target indoor operations and use the training from the conference to gather informants to help locate people growing marijuana.

"It really hinges on a lot of public participation. People can call in if they see something that looks a little suspicious in these rural areas," Caid said.

Anyone with information regarding the growing of marijuana can call the Scott County Sheriff's Department tip line at 1-866-210-4322 or visit www.scottcountymo.com/sheriff/sheriff_cr....

ehevern@semissourian.com

388-3635

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