The Saratoga Police Department announced a program intended to curtail drug crimes in town by keeping closer tabs on accused or convicted drug offenders not in jail.
Under the new initiative, Saratoga police officers will conduct drug testing on people on bond, supervised probation, or who are on unsupervised probation if those people have conditions imposed by the court barring them from using or possessing drugs, according to Robert Bifano, Chief of Police of the Saratoga Police Department.
“We have a meth problem here in this town that we need to find a way to stop,” Bifano said. “I see this program as a very proactive measure that will benefit the community.”
Carbon County Attorney Cal Rerucha said because of budget issues, there simply are not enough probation agents to sufficiently monitor everyone on probation, and because of that, initiatives like Bifano’s would increasingly become important to the criminal justice system.
“When an officer comes in contact with someone in their duties who is on probation, it’s good they have the kits and can test them,” Rerucha said. “For people on unsupervised probation, police officers are the only ones who can help.”
Unsupervised probation is becoming more common because of a shortage of probation agents and budget cutbacks, Rerucha explained.
Usually when courts release accused or convicted drug offenders on bond or probation, there are conditions barring the person from using or possessing illegal drugs, synthetic substitutes or prescription drugs not prescribed to that person by a licensed physician.
Generally, the person also agrees to submit to drug testing upon reasonable request by a law enforcement officer.
“We’re not going to be kicking anybody’s door in at 3 a.m.,” Bifano said. “Our requests will be reasonable.”
Bifano also told members of Saratoga Town Council Tuesday that individuals on bond, probation or unsupervised release with drug conditions could be tested in cases where officers encounter them for other legitimate reasons related to law enforcement.
Officers are trained to recognize signs of drug dealing or trafficking occurring in town and would be on the lookout for that kind of activity, Bifano said.
Officers will ask those on bond, probation or unsupervised release with whom they come in contact to submit to a field drug test which looks for a wide variety of drugs. If the field test kit indicates the probable presence of controlled substances, the person will be asked to submit a sample to be sent to the state lab in Cheyenne where more sophisticated, evidence quality testing can be performed.
If the person tests positive for controlled substances, they will be issued a citation for being under the influence of the substance, and the county attorney’s office will be informed.
According to Rerucha, once a person has been found to have violated terms of their bond or probation, there are several things that could occur.
If the person is out on bond, they could go to jail or be subject to more rigorous supervision. A person on probation, supervised or otherwise, could also be incarcerated, but may be also be ordered to drug treatment or other options, depending on the severity of the case and other factors, Rerucha explained.
“The jails and prisons are getting filled with people who aren’t doing well on probation,” he said. “Having police officers helping the probation officers lets the court and the county attorney know about problems before things get out of hand.”
Bifano also said the program is needed to combat crime related to the abuse of methamphetamine in Saratoga, pointing out many other crimes—like burglaries and other property crimes—are related to drugs.
Rerucha echoed Bifano’s statement. “Anytime you have methamphetamine in a community you have an increase in violent crime and its severity,” he said.
Most people, Rerucha said, would be shocked to learn how often crimes that are usually considered property crimes turn out to be driven by drugs, specifically methamphetamine. In many cases the motivating factor for a crime, whether violent or otherwise, is someone trying to get money for methamphetamine. “It (methamphetamine) becomes the overriding beacon in their lives,” he said. “It’ becomes more important than family, having a job or anything else.
“It’s the Devil’s drug.”