Editor's note: This is the first article in a two-part series on the difficulties Logan police face as drug cases rise. Part two will appear in Wednesday's Thanksgiving edition.
While the once-sleepy college town of Logan is growing and bringing more businesses and opportunities, many other big-city problems are following in behind the success.
Law enforcement statistics suggest the changing landscape has brought a steadily increasing flow of drugs through the community and there are not enough resources to halt — or even dampen — the spreading influence.
From 2014 to 2018, there was a 49% increase in drug cases in the valley. In 2018 alone there were 1,431 cases, 655 of them involving meth.
"The frustrating part is that there is a lot of drugs moving through our community, whether it be a safe house or a distribution or trafficking, and we are just barely scratching the surface," said Gary Jensen, the LCPD police chief. "It is not a 'war on drugs' because there is no win-or-lose; it is just part of existence.”
Jensen said the frustrating reality of drugs is that the only tool the department has to fight them is fear, and fear won’t supersede the user’s addiction.
That’s especially true when a misdemeanor is far less intimidating than a felony conviction.
Ever since House Bill 348 passed in 2015 reclassifying felony drug convictions to misdemeanors in the state of Utah, LCPD Sgt. Shand Nazer said, the drug task force often arrests the same people over and over again.
The legislation was passed based on the idea that it would promote second chances and cut jail costs. But Nazer said the new law often promotes brief stints in rehab and a quicker road back to drugs for most users.
Nazer has been the supervisor of the task force for three years and has noticed a huge uptick in drug cases since the passing of the new law.
"The penalty is so much less now for drug offenses, which makes it so much more difficult for the task force to actually do their job and be effective," said Allison McKenzie, the administrative assistant for investigations and the task force.
McKenzie has worked at the department for eight years and said it has been devastating to see the changes in how the officers are able — or perhaps unable — to defend the community against the troubling influence of drugs. She is nervous to see what the next couple years will bring.
McKenzie takes on many roles, one of which includes looking at the big-picture situation with drugs in the community.
"Just even over the past six years, drugs have gone from being somewhat there to now plaguing our community,” McKenzie said. “But we have to at least try to combat it.”
Looking at drug cases throughout Cache County is James Swink’s responsibility. As county attorney, Swink sees the process from start to finish. He sees the impact of drugs on offenders' families, on the overworked law enforcement officers and on the crowded drug courts.
“It is heartbreaking to know the drug addicts and see the wreckage that is caused,” Swink said.
When he spoke at the funeral of a 30-year-old man who died from a heroin overdose a few years back, Swink could feel the very real effects of drugs in this community, and now he sees it all the time, spinning out of control.
Not everyone sees this as they look at Logan or the surrounding cities. Swink said it is a blessing for people that are unaware because it means they or their families are not affected by the drugs. But he also said that being naive to this growing problem can make it worse as the influence of drugs inches closer to the front steps of their home.
When people ask, in disbelief, if there are drugs in the community, Nazer just shakes his head sadly and says they have no idea.
And there is a lot even the top community defenders against drugs don’t know.
“We have heard from some of the officers who work interdiction on the Interstate that some of the drug couriers are starting to take smaller roads, where people aren’t as focused on looking out for traffickers,” Nazer said.
Utah is a growing market for drug cartels, and while the Utah Highway Patrol’s interdiction troopers seize thousands of pounds of drugs every year, smaller cities are not prepared enough to ward off this kind of traffic.
"The interdiction stuff is just getting overwhelming on the freeways, and the people are getting used to where officers are set up on those big roads so they are trying to find ways around it,” said Nate Robison, a full-time drug task force officer. “Our Main Street could become that way."
Just this year, LCPD sent a few members from the task force to an interdiction school to be trained on what to look for and how to combat the inevitable. The officers listened carefully to the trainings with the hope of someday being able to start an interdiction program in Logan.
However, as a street-level task force, the LCPD officers don’t have the time or resources right now to dedicate to this effort.
"We are too small to be able to even dedicate one or two officers to interdiction at all times, so we are missing a lot of what is coming through,” Robison said. “It just comes down to money and manpower."
Despite that lack of resources, the officers charged with the task of warding off the increase in cases find hope and resolve in the daily wins.
“This is my community. I grew up here. My family is here. I want to fight the good fight and do the best I can for the community, “ Nazer said. “That is what motivates me on the hard days.”