WILMINGTON — Call it an occupational hazard if you want, but Sheriff Ralph D. Fizer Jr. talks with drug addicts, and he believes they come to thank him for a little tough love.
“What they’ve told me is that they appreciate what I’m doing, constantly busting the drug dealers,” Fizer said.
Drug users tell Fizer that no matter how many programs there are or how long they go to prison, when they get out, they know they can buy heroin in their town. According to Fizer, they say it’s just a matter of time before they can get high again.
“But if they’re not there, if you busted them and took ‘em off the street, believe me, it helps,” he said one told him.
“I never forgot that,” Fizer said. “And so that’s one of the reasons why we do try to bust the local drug dealers. … That’s the only way you’re going to be able to help these guys is if it’s not readily available just up the street.”
Because of that, Fizer said he’s made it a top priority to get dealers off of streets so drug users can’t buy drugs and “to make our neighborhood safer.”
“That’s our job, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish every week,” Fizer said.
One of the most prevalent, and deadly, drugs available in Clinton County is heroin, which is a case study in underground logistics.
According to Fizer and Major Brett Prickett, most of America’s heroin comes from the U.S.-Mexico border where drug cartels process it for consumer use and transport it to cities across the U.S.
Then, dealers move it in small increments from cities to consumers. They avoid moving large amounts so as to avoid larger, stiffer penalties if they get caught.
“There’s not a place untouched,” Prickett said.
“They know the law about as well as we do,” Fizer said. “So they try to not go over certain amounts and stuff because then it’s a higher degree charge. They’re getting a little smarter each time too, but that’s what makes it harder for us to get the bigger guy. … They’re not leaving their place. They’re having all these little guys come get it.”
Fizer agreed with Wilmington Police Chief Duane Weyand, who said heroin dealers are different now — more business-like and focused on turning profits than supporting a habit.
And the cost of that business can be measured in human lives – 2,482 people died in 2014 in Ohio alone from drug overdoses. The Ohio Department of Health and Prickett say fentanyl is leading record high increases in such deaths.
And Fizer says it isn’t just Ohio that’s struggling with heroin; it’s the whole nation.
Part of the struggle comes from those dealers moving small amounts, but Fizer says he believes his deputies do a good job. He and Prickett declined to share the tactics they use, but said a lot of it comes down to typical police work.
“It works because we probably bust more drug dealers than most agencies do,” Fizer said. “My guys are good. They know what to look for and we’re getting them off the street.”
He also thanked the public, which he said contributes to most of their busts in the form of neighbors reporting suspicious activity.
“That helps us because we can’t be everywhere,” Fizer said. “Call anytime.”
“You’re looking for traffic in and out that don’t stay,” Prickett said. “That’s the biggest indicator.”
Fizer added that those buying drugs usually only stay for a few minutes, making it appear like a kind of drive-through.
Fizer also said it takes time to investigate those complaints, even several months. Deputies have to establish probable cause to get a search warrant before they can enter the house.
But, it’s important to Fizer to spend time on those cases, in part because it reduces other crimes.
“Anytime we have a series or a whole bunch of drug busts, and my jail’s full, all of our other crimes – burglaries, B&E’s [breaking and entering], thefts, all of those – drop clear off the chart because these are the people that are doing it,” Fizer said. “So, by going after the drug dealers, you’re actually helping to prevent a lot of other crimes, too.
“The more aggressive you are busting drug dealers, the less crime you’re going to have in your county,” Fizer continued.
In addition to targeting drug dealers, Fizer employs two Drug Abuse Resistance Education deputies to educate children and talk to teachers.
DARE, Fizer said, also teaches children how to handle peer pressure, bullying and other issues children face.
“It seems to work,” Fizer said, adding that the children have to write essays about the DARE program. “It’s like they got it, and it makes you proud. If we can save three or four kids a year, what kind of a price do you put on that?”
Fizer said he believes DARE has also changed with the times, including lowering the age of children it works with to accurately reflect use.
The Clinton County Sheriff’s Office also works to educate the public.
“If they have a family member, or a good friend, and they can see ‘em headed in that direction, try to get them some help,” he said. “And they can call us. We’ll try to help” by referring them to programs to aid in recovery.
Fizer said it’s often family and friends that know about drug use first, well before someone overdoses.
“We hate to see overdoses,” he said. “If someone needs help, that’s our job, too.”
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.