The Sitka Assembly on Tuesday night (5-13-14) heard an update from the Police Department on the issue of illegal drugs.
Drug investigator Kyle Ferguson last addressed the assembly a year ago. Since then, he said, drug abuse in Sitka “hasn’t gotten noticeably worse, but it hasn’t gotten better, either.”
“That in and of itself isn’t a good sign,” he said.
Ferguson said that drug abuse in Sitka centers on heroin and methamphetamine. That reflects a regional trend across Southeast Alaska. When Assembly Member Mike Reif asked for an example of who is involved in drug abuse, Ferguson said: it’s everyone.
“It affects all age groups, all social levels, socio-economic groups,” he said. “It’s widespread. And it has a tremendous ripple effect. There’s probably not a person in the room that doesn’t have some friend or family member that’s had problems with drugs.”
Ferguson said that nearly every crime investigated by Sitka police has some connection to drug abuse. That includes alcohol and marijuana.
“There’s a drug nexus to nearly every case the police department works with, and under that umbrella I’ll include alcohol and marijuana as well,” Ferguson said “In investigations, felony cases, I can’t think of a case that I’ve worked this year that didn’t have a drug nexus to it.”
Ferguson said the police can’t address the issue without community involvement. Many times, he said, incidents that residents don’t think are important enough to report, like minor thefts, can lead to breakthroughs in drug cases. He compared his job to “collecting puzzle pieces.”
But puzzle pieces aren’t enough, if there’s nobody there to put the pieces together, and Ferguson said the police department is reaching a “crisis point” in staffing.
Ferguson himself is leaving the department this month to join the Alaska Wildlife Troopers. When he goes, the city will have just one investigating detective, down from three two years ago.
“He’ll be responsible for everything, every felony case, drug cases, sexual abuse of a minor, sexual assaults,” Ferguson said. “For the investigators it’s a matter of not, ‘What I’m going to work on today?’ [it’s] ‘What am I going to ignore?'”
Police Chief Sheldon Schmidt said the department is working to fill vacancies, but added that hiring takes time. Schmidt said he hopes to write a grant to put a full-time officer back in the schools.
“You can’t just enforce,” Schmidt said. “You have to educate.”