Over the last four years, the number of arrests in Louisville for manufacturing methamphetamine has nearly doubled. Police say the it’s the result of increased vigilance by officers and citizens in recent years. But authorities acknowledge that just finding and arresting manufacturers and users isn’t enough to keep the dangerous drug off the streets.
“There’s a meth pipe,” says LMPD Sergeant Stan Salyards going through slides of meth labs, paraphernalia and statistics on his computer. “You can smoke it. You can inject it. You can inhale it.”
“As of yesterday we now have 44 found meth labs,” he says.
That’s 44 lab busts from January 1st through April 22nd. It’s just under the 56 total lab busts in 2006, and not yet half of the 93 recorded in 2008.
The ingredients and materials needed to produce meth can be purchased from pharmacies and hardware stores. Louisville is often a destination for area meth manufacturers because of the prevalence of those stores. Salyards says it’s possible that the jump in arrests is the result of a rise in meth manufacturing, but believes it’s more likely the spike in lab seizures corresponds with a police program that teaches civilians how to identify residential meth labs.
“Meter readers, people who pick up trash, LG&E, the water company,” he says. “Anybody whose job it was to go onto somebody else’s property, we trained them on how to spot meth labs.”
“Any time you’ve got that type of approach where you’re trying to mobilize the public, you’re going to uncover more crime,” says University of Louisville criminal justice professor Gennaro Vito. He and fellow professor Geetha Suresh are doing a study of the LMPD’s meth task force.
Their analysis is not complete, but the two say the numbers appear to support Sergeant Salyard’s claims. They’ve also noticed trends among the people arrested for making meth.
“This is not like other drugs like marijuana where they’re growing it to sell or something along those lines. Here the meth manufacturer is also the meth user,” says Vito.
Since it can be made in the home with relatively little expense, meth is easier in many ways for users to obtain than drugs like cocaine or heroin that have to be imported from other cities or countries. And Suresh says arresting people for manufacturing meth under the existing law has not proven to be a deterrent.
“We can find a definite pattern that people are being released and arrested again,” she says.
Manufacturing meth is a Class B felony that carries a 10-20 year sentence. But prisons are crowded and meth labs are so toxic that not all of the evidence can be kept in storage. Meth-related convictions are common, but probation and plea agreements are too.
“I think the longest time that I was incarcerated was, I think like 38 days,” says Stuart Cornelius.
Cornelius was arrested five times for trafficking or possessing methamphetamine, but says he never made his own drugs and jail wasn’t enough to scare him away from using meth.
“The addiction was so intense that even as hopeless as that was, I still got out of jail and picked right back up,” he says.
Criminal Justice Professor Gennaro Vito says that’s not unusual.
“It’s something that you need more than just the enforcement side to do something about it. You need a heavy duty impact,” he says.
That’s what Cornelius says he got with the Jefferson County Drug Court. It’s a program that offers rehabilitation to addicts as an alternative to prison. Cornelius says he’s been clean since he started the program, almost a year and a half ago.
“I have about six months to go to be done with the Drug Court program. But I’ll be in a twelve step program for the rest of my life,” he says.
LMPD Sergeant Stan Salyards says he supports rehabilitation programs for meth addicts, but there is another way to keep meth manufacturers off the street.
“My personal opinion? I think manufacturing methamphetamine is violent,” says Salyards. “Because of the possibility of the fire explosion and also the chemicals that can be inhaled, I think it’s a violent crime.”
Violent offenders don’t qualify for drug court, but if convicted, they also wouldn’t qualify for the same paroles and probations they do now.