Beyond the Badge: Kosciusko County’s proactive approach to keeping drugs off the streets
KOSCIUSKO COUNTY, Ind. --- Drug overdoses are up across the country and here at home, it’s no different.
The CDC reports as of July 2021, Indiana saw roughly 2,500 overdose deaths over a 12-month period. That’s nearly a 22% increase from the year before. The actual count is likely even higher since these cases can go unreported.
This week on Beyond the Badge, we’re traveling to Kosciusko County. It’s another community where meth and heroin are at the forefront of drug addiction. It’s a county-wide effort among law enforcement to fight the problem, taking drugs off the streets and saving lives.
“It is getting into our communities and it is destroying our communities without a doubt,” Kosciusko County Sheriff Kyle Dukes said. “It absolutely kills families… kills families.”
Sheriff Dukes has been head of the department for three years after spending 18 with Indiana State Police, following in his father’s footsteps.
Kosciusko County serves roughly 82,000 people and covers about 550 sq. miles. They’re taking steps to fight a drug problem and overdoses.
“It doesn't matter. You know, how much money that you make,” Dukes said. “It doesn't matter where you live, northern part of the county, southern part of the county. It's there.”
Brad Kellar is Detective Sergeant at Warsaw Police Department; he spent a few years working undercover.
“It's probably one of the best jobs you can do in law enforcement,” Kellar said.
“Moms and dads and grandpas and grandmas come in here all the time,” Dukes said. “They're frustrated because they've tried everything for their loved one. Who do we call? Where do we go? 81% of the people incarcerated right now because at the Kosciusko County jail are here for drug related issues.”
Sheriff Dukes said when you look at the numbers, meth or heroin is the root of the problem in crimes like thefts and domestic situations.
In Kosciusko County, they’re the drug of choice.
When Brad Kellar worked undercover from about 2002-2005, meth was still king, but things were a little different.
“Back then we would have maybe just a small handful of guys that were…they were the lab guy, they were the cook and so the way I explained this is they would sit on the mountain, and everybody would bring them the ingredients and they would sit up on the mountain and they would make a lot of meth and then that would get trickled down from there,” Kellar explained.
After that, they started seeing mobile meth labs, cutting out the middle man.
“It just seemed like the price of methamphetamine fell through the roof and it was everywhere,” Kellar said.
That’s why when Dukes took over as sheriff, he made it a goal to take drugs off the streets. He partnered up to create a multi-agency drug task force, known as NET43.
“It's made up of the Warsaw Police Department, the Indiana State Police, the Winona Lake Police Department and the Nappanee Police Department and the Kosciusko County Prosecutor's Office,” he said.
The men and women a part of NET43 work undercover.
“The ability for things to go bad are great in those situations,” Kellar said.
“Being an undercover police officer has got to be one of the toughest jobs there is… the secrecy of their job… still keeping the integrity, building solid cases impacting, you know, community issues. It's a tough job,” Dukes said.
“When you're dealing with high level felonies, there's a chance that there's probably going to be much more of a propensity for violence or for something negative to come out of that,” Kellar explained. “So you have to be prepared for that at all times.”
We pulled some evidence from closed cases to give Michiana and idea of what they’re finding right in our own backyard. You can see all of that in the video above.
Kellar and Dukes agreed that drug addiction is ruining peoples’ lives.
“It's the devil,” Kellar said. “It plagues so many peoples’ lives and it has a ripple effect.”
With drug cases, they are also finding a lot more guns, Kellar explained.
“There are a lot more guns that are surfacing in our communities today than there were back then,” he said. “I think it's safe to say that every time that we do a search warrant, that's narcotics related, there are guns involved, whether that's handguns, rifles, shotguns. Whatever we can do to pull just one gun, the way we look at it, that one gun is one person that we don't have to worry about at least one person not getting hurt or killed by it.” 19:53
“If we're going to hit it hard on the outside with NET 43, we also got to hit it hard on the inside, as we do back in our jail with our JCAP program,” Dukes said.
It all starts with education, including at the county jail. The Jail Chemical Addiction Program (JCAP) is a substance abuse treatment program, providing stepping stones to get people back on their feet.
“We have a 59% success rate that the addicted person gets out of incarceration and stays clean,” Dukes said. “We got 30 local businesses and organizations that come into our jail every week and help teach and mentor and train our JCAP family. It's saving one life at a time. If you don't do it as a community, you're probably not going to make it.”
Kellar said the drug presence isn’t a negative reflection on the community or something to look down on; it’s all about being proactive and working together to make a change.
“There needs to be a realistic approach that drugs are a huge problem within our community and within the communities around us,” Kellar said. “And we have to be vigilant, especially those people that that are willing to cooperate with law enforcement. But the issue is that people on top, that's what we want to go after because they are they are making the most out of ruining lives. The people that will deal heroin to somebody, knowing that they die off of it, and then just go right down the road and deal to somebody else. It's, it's savage. And that's why there needs to be us out there trying to find those people.”