Editor’s note: This is the second article in a two-part series on the difficulties Logan police face as drug cases rise. Part one appeared in Tuesday’s issue.
The police officers walk into the home, and the dingy lighting reveals a bare kitchen and unkempt children. After sending for Child and Family Services, they begin a three-hour process of interviewing and searching through disheveled piles of strangers’ belongings.
For those on a mission to keep drugs from infiltrating homes and families, this scene is as familiar as putting on shoes before walking out of the door each morning.
Derek Grange has embraced that mission. As a full-time officer on the Cache/Rich Drug Task Force at the Logan City Police Department, Grange recognizes how his newfound perception of his community differs wildly from his childhood memories.
Manilla folders line each cubicle in the back corner of investigations. They are organized, but as Grange flips through the stack on his desk, he said there are a couple that carried over from last year, some are repeat offenders, but all of the case files are evidence of a bigger drug problem in Cache Valley.
“We gather our evidence, get a search warrant, knock on the door and that’s just how the day begins,” Grange said.
The task force does not always get to determine how it ends.
Day in and day out, Grange and the three other full-time officers on the task force cover as much ground as they can. Their main objective is to keep a finger on the pulse of the drug problem throughout the 2,259 square miles of Cache and Rich counties.
However, while the land they traverse is not growing, the problem they are committed to quashing is, and fast. From 2014 to 2018, there was a 49 percent increase in drug cases in the county, and it is not slowing down.
Law enforcement officials attribute this rise to the booming economic status of the valley, which brings in more people and more big-city problems. The 2015 Utah legislation that changed drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors also plays a role in the climbing rate of drug cases prosecuted in Cache County.
“They deal with the worst of the worst,” said Allison McKenzie. “These officers show up on your worst days, every day, all day.”
McKenzie, the administrative assistant for investigations and the task force, is in charge of collecting the evidence during these search warrants. After eight years of going into homes, seeing kids running around barefoot on floors she herself can barely stand to walk on with shoes, McKenzie is almost past feeling.
“The idea that any child has to live in that environment is just upsetting,” said LCPD Lt. Brad Franke, “and we do everything we can for them. But as devastating as it is, you just have to put it in your pocket when you’re done at work and go home.”
Grange said he kind of just rolls all the cases together in his mind to stay distant, but every time there are kids involved, his thoughts jump to his own children.
With two children and one more on the way, Grange spends a lot of time thinking about what he wants this community to be like for his children. Helping people recognize that drug abuse is not a victimless act is one of his goals, and he starts by teaching his kids about good and bad decisions.
“Some people start off as simple users and their habit gets to the point where they get so desperate they start breaking into homes, stealing from family members,” Grange said. “It is really hard.”
This connection between drugs and other crimes is made for many officers early on.
“In the academy they told us that 80 percent of crimes committed come from drug use, and I didn’t believe it until I came out and worked the field,” said Jeff Simmons, the LCPD assistant police chief. “It is true. Absolutely true. And honestly, 80 percent is probably a conservative number.”
Just reflecting on the past year, McKenzie said at least five of the recent homicides in Logan have been influenced by drug use.
Sgt. Shand Nazer, who heads up the drug task force, said it is devastating to see lives torn apart because of drugs. The impact goes far beyond the people doing drugs but leaks into the lives of their family members and even the police officers.
“All these guys have their own bullshit that’s going on,” McKenzie said. “We do our best to support each other, but being on the front lines, seeing drugs overwhelm our city every day, has its toll.”
Her desk sits at the entrance of the investigations division and is the most colorful corner in the whole department. Music plays in the background as she greets people coming and going. It is not the happiest place on earth by any means, but McKenzie’s brightly colored outfits and coordinated eyeshadow fight for balance.
She has a front-row seat to watch the crippling impact of drugs on both sides of the badge. McKenzie experienced a family member lose custody of their child due to drug abuse and has felt the sting when families are separated.
“This is not a good situation for anyone involved,” McKenzie said. “But at the end of the day, you do it all in the hope that it’s better for the family.”
The officers hold onto that hope, as well as the hope that the little wins every day will make up for the fact that it will take more manpower and resources to dampen the overall drug problem.
“It affects the officers, of course it does,” McKenzie said. “I do worry about them but they all have some sort of coping mechanism. Most of them usually just say, ‘I take care of my damn self,’ but I worry about how the building pressure affects them.”
Nazer said there is no perfect solution because the user’s addiction can be so strong. They often arrest the same people over and over because their desire for the high outweighs the threat of a misdemeanor.
“We have memorized their names and know their families,” Nazer said. This familiarity requires the officers to take a step back and refocus.
Nazer, Grange and the other officers on the task force try to focus on the little every day successes.
And every once and a while they find moments to breathe.
Nazer stood with four other officers around McKenzie’s desk. The pungent smell of spiced pumpkin from the candle warmer filling the space, it is the only place in the department that doesn’t smell like an office building. Each of the officers took turns trying to convince Nazer to show off his party trick.
“C’mon, you know you can’t resist it,” prodded one of the officers.
“Fine, but just once,” Nazer said.
He grabbed the phone from his friend and flicked screen displaying a geography trivia game.
“Easy, it is the capital of Singapore, anybody would know that,” Nazer said with a chuckle.
He flips to the next flag, and the next flag and the next. While he doesn’t know what the following day brings for the community he protects, he does know the origin of each flag on this game.
And for just one moment, that is all that matters.