Detective Tanner Vogelmeier tapped his gloved finger to his nose. “He probably smells marijuana,” Detective Doug Bline interpreted from a Licking County Sheriff’s Office cruiser parked across the road.
Three detectives with the Central Ohio Drug Enforcement Task Force stopped a silver car after its driver threw trash out the window. But they weren’t looking to penalize litterers; they were looking for drugs.
The vehicle smelled like fresh marijuana, and Detective Adam Hoskinson quickly spotted a glass jar of what appeared to be the drug on the passenger side.
More times than not, that’s how drug investigations go in Licking County. They aren’t flashy displays of rounding up dozens of criminals; most people who complain about drugs never know detectives are working to arrest dealers, Bline said.
Members of the task force, which includes officers from Licking, Muskingum, Coshocton, Knox and Perry counties, use a variety of strategies to catch drug dealers from “knock and talks” — officers chatting with residents in homes where neighbors have complained about drugs — to drug interdiction — stopping suspicious vehicles for minor driving violations to look for drugs.
There’s a fine line between a person looking nervous because they’ve been speeding and someone appearing anxious because they’re delivering drugs. Understanding that line is a skill Bline has honed during more than 13 years working for the drug task force and several years of drug enforcement with Newark police.
But it’s not perfect. A van with a Florida license plate stopped for driving too closely to other cars contained no drugs, only employees checking cellphone tower technology.
“It’s a one in a million shot,” Bline explained. “It’s not TV.”
After watching for suspicious vehicles, Bline and Vogelmeier stop for gas on Ohio 79 in Heath. They spot a bearded man carrying a large bag of ice into his beat-up vehicle.
The man looked familiar. “Didn’t he do two or three years for meth?” one asked.
A check of his license plate revealed his driver’s license was suspended, and he shouldn’t have been driving.
“That’s pretty ballsy,” Bline said.
Bline then parked his cruiser behind a Baptist church, out of sight from the road. From there, he waited for nearly an hour for officers in plainclothes and unmarked vehicles who were watching the homes of known drug dealers. They called over the radio with details of vehicles parked in garages and driveways, possibly indicating the suspects were at home sleeping.
With methamphetamine, it’s not uncommon for users to stay awake for days then sleep for days, Bline said.
None of the officers spotted any drug sales that afternoon.
Driving back down the road, a Chevrolet Tahoe turned without signaling right in front of the cruiser. The driver was a heroin user and dealer. The man had prior convictions, but his passenger said he hasn’t used drugs in two years.
It would be difficult to know if she was telling the truth, but the driver volunteered to let Bline and Vogelmeier search his Chevrolet Tahoe — an offer the detectives did not take him up on — and he looked healthy.
“You have to gauge their truthfulness,” Bline said. “But he seemed good.”
May 31, 2014 12:51 PM
The Newhawks Crew