Washburn County Chief Deputy Mike Richter and Minong Police Chief Dennis Stuart talk what they will do about the meth epidemic facing Washburn County if elected Sheriff.

Per our first week's coin-flip, Minong Police Chief Dennis Stuart's answer will appear first followed Washburn County Chief Deputy Mike Richter.

Minong Police Chief Dennis Stuart

DrydenWire: If elected Sheriff, what specifically will you do to address the meth epidemic in Washburn County?

Chief Stuart: For decades we have been waging a war on drugs, and we have struggled to stay afloat. Drug use has not gone down, and drugs are just as available as they have always been. What we have done is incarcerate a large number of individuals in county jails and prison systems. Spending millions of dollars on incarceration when there are interventions that could be put in place that change the lives of the offender and the addict. 

Drug addiction is a social problem that we seem to think we can regulate in the criminal justice system. What we are overlooking are options that have more success than a jail cell. There are more laws that result in increased drug convictions and incarceration. Incarceration without treatment is often ineffective and does not address the addiction problem. Drug addiction and abuse do not go away while the offender is incarcerated. What led the individual to drugs is still there; and after incarceration it is more difficult for them to re-adjust in the community. What we have been doing does nothing to treat the addiction; thus, creating a high recidivism rate among these offenders. 

The Methamphetamine epidemic is a complex problem that is not easily solved, as it also impacts the state’s health and social service systems, families, business, and communities. Because of the widespread affects in Wisconsin, a collaborative, coordinated public education effort within these systems is necessary. An effective and comprehensive prevention program that influences personal attitudes and behaviors against Methamphetamine use is an essential element. Currently, AODA prevention programs utilize researched-based prevention models and strategies, but Methamphetamine-specific, research-based prevention programs have not yet been developed. 

What I would like to see is more of a community approach. I would like to see more partnerships between those incarcerated and those in the community. I would encourage more treatment and life skills programs during incarceration to assist in building a chance for success when individuals are released. Treatment services and 12-step programs received during incarceration are vital to the success and recovery of the addict, to lowering recidivism rates, and to the dealing with the drug crisis as a whole. If nothing is done during incarceration, these individuals will return to the same lifestyle and ultimately jail, time and time again. 

Unless you or someone you love has actually been addicted to Meth and you have lived in the world of destruction that Meth addiction causes, it is difficult to fully grasp the magnitude of the problems caused by Meth. There is no doubt that with Meth use there is a cost and consequence for the individual using it. What is frequently overlooked, however, is that the costs and consequences from their use are not exclusive to the user. The impact on families, friends and the community is huge. We can measure certain costs on agencies and organizations; for instance, the economic impact of property crimes. In conjunction with the increase in Meth use, our community is seeing more health and dental expense, significant increases in child neglect cases typically ending in the removal of children, more property crimes and violent criminal offences. 

I would recommend an expansion of the existing drug court. I am encouraged by the Drug Court that Washburn County already has in place and am appreciative to those involved with it’s current successes. There are also other programs that the county could be looking at. One of our surrounding counties has started a Meth Diversion Program. This program diverts those with Methamphetamine charges from jails and prisons while offering the offender intensive case management and treatment services. This program has shown success with a substance abuse issue that is very difficult to treat. 

There are also other Jail Diversion programs that make it possible for the offender to give back to the community while working on sobriety and sustaining both a substance and crime free life. The goal of these diversion courts is to address substance abuse to those with possession charges. These programs would be offered to only low-level offenders. This would bring down the expense and overcrowding of our jails and prisons while treating those who are able to re-enter the community. 

I think it’s great that the Washburn County Sheriff’s Office is currently working on getting the Juvenile Officer back into the schools. Educating our youth is very important to me. The best way to fight the use of Meth and other drugs is to help our youth make the decision to never use them. 

It is important for community members to assist in the efforts of Law Enforcement as well. If you see something, say something. It is important you stay aware of what is going on in your community. Does a neighbor have visitors coming at all times of the day and night but only stay for a few minutes? That is something that could be reported. What you must remember is that even though you may not see an immediate response, that does not mean that Law Enforcement is not looking into the call. It may take some time to investigate what is truly happening at the residence. 

Lastly, I would like to see further inter-agency cooperation for drug interdiction details to keep cost down and fully utilize the assets we have within our county. I look forward to meeting with our current Investigators to see what they need to accomplish their mission. I will work diligently as your next Sheriff to confront the Methamphetamine crisis county-wide, as well as to promote and provide the opportunity for recovery to those battling addiction.

Washburn County Chief Deputy Mike Richter

DrydenWire: If elected Sheriff, what specifically will you do to address the meth epidemic in Washburn County?

Mike Richter: Methamphetamine is arguably the greatest challenge to law enforcement in Northwest Wisconsin and the most important issue in this campaign. I would ask you to look closely at the past achievements in drug enforcement by the two Sheriff’s Candidates. Your next Sheriff will be charged with overseeing an effective and successful drug reduction program. My experience and success in counterdrug operations reveals the most effective and successful program in the history of Washburn County!

As I am out in the community, you tell me you are concerned about our drug problems. When you select your next Sheriff, will you choose the most experienced and knowledgeable candidate in drug matters, or the candidate without a history in drug enforcement? Ask yourself what each candidate is bringing to the table on this issue to get the results you want as a community. Anyone can talk about all of the amazing things they will do if elected. Do they have the ability to get them done? Will they follow through? Have they had success in the past? What are they doing right now? The greatest predictors for the future are the accomplishments and achievements of the candidate’s past.  (See my drug enforcement achievements at RichterforSheriff.com)   

The solution to our current drug crisis is multi-faceted and a very complex issue. I see this issue as having a four-tier plan, where most components have equal importance. I would break down a county-wide drug reduction program into the following tiers: Education, Enforcement, Criminal Justice, and Treatment.

Education for our youth and the entire community seems like the natural first step in preventing drug use. Some of today's’ drugs are too dangerous to have people experiment with. Methamphetamine and opiates are so addictive that many who have become addicted indicate that they were hooked on the first or second use. Our duty is to make people aware of how addiction happens, and articulate the many negative consequences that come with these addictions.

I see a very valuable role in drug education being performed by The Sheriff’s Office Juvenile Officer. Basic drug resistance education must take place in grades early enough to inform children before they are introduced to drugs by their peers. Grades 5 or 6 seem to be a good launching point where contact is made early enough, but students can comprehend the lessons.

Within two years of the basic message, a follow-up program of specific drug danger education should take place. Our youth need to appreciate that if they should try methamphetamine, opiates, or many of the other commonly abused drugs, they may not be able to separate themselves from the substance.

There are many top end motivational speakers that address drugs, self-esteem, and compassion training. Funding available to educational institutions should be sought out to expose high school assemblies to these types of presentations. The information delivered in such programming can create the foundation for healthy and happy kids, which incidentally strengthens kids against bullying, drugs, alcohol and other negative forces.

I will start by talking about some of the reasons that you can be proud of your Sheriff’s Office as it pertains to the methamphetamine reduction plan that is currently underway.

Our Sheriff’s Office has patrol deputies and a K-9 unit that are actively and aggressively pursuing meth dealers. Going after these often delusional and violent individuals holds its risks and consequences. In the not too distant past, one of our deputies was involved in a shooting on Highway 77 with one of these meth guys. Thankfully our Deputy was not hurt and the suspect recovered from his wounds.

A few weeks ago I was in federal court testifying against a meth dealer from Minong who tried to draw a handgun on me. I was backing up our deputy during a traffic stop. Meth and cash were seized during this incident. This dealer has been indicted federally due to a great case prepared by our drug investigator.

If you look back a week in Washburn County news, the most notorious meth dealer in Washburn County has been federally indicted for trafficking meth; a man who has repeatedly been convicted of drug felonies, but continues to poison our community. This case was also prepared by our drug investigator, along with state agents. 

A week ago a search warrant was executed in the Town of Minong where meth was seized and 7 people were arrested. The Washburn County SRT team and members of almost every police department in the county worked cooperatively to complete the mission. Relationships between the Sheriff’s Office and the police departments provide good results while working together to achieve the common goal of hitting meth hard. You don’t have to look very far from Washburn County to find sheriff’s offices and police departments that won’t talk to each other. It is a credit to the leadership in our police departments and the sheriff’s office to maintain good working relationships. I list these examples of what is working well in our quest to reduce the impact of meth on our county. Our deputies are taking on the meth problem head on, and are impacting the meth dealers’ daily operations. Great things are taking place at The Washburn County Sheriff’s Office!

Our deputies will continue to conduct drug interdiction operations with a focus on target specific enforcement. Our investigators will continue to gather and share multi-county drug intelligence, and disseminate this information to our patrol and K-9 deputies. Our investigators and deputies will be utilizing the link analysis capabilities of our software, to predict the people and locations that warrant higher levels of enforcement. Our deputies will increase contacts with community members in order to encourage citizen involvement in reporting crime.  

Several weeks ago a meeting was held in Spooner to meet the new United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin. My previous experience with the Federal court system helped me to understand the importance of this meeting. Police Chiefs and Sheriff’s staff from throughout the Northwest area of Wisconsin attended this meeting. Both large agencies and small gathered to listen to U.S. Attorney Scott Blader lay out the road map and strategies for combatting methamphetamine in Wisconsin. The information delivered established the new guidelines for drug cases to be prosecuted at the Federal level. Federal asset forfeitures and weapons enhancement strategies were outlined as new tools to be used against methamphetamine dealers. I attended this meeting with the intention of learning the new information presented, but also planning to engage in a one-on-one conversation with the new U.S. Attorney. It is important to methodically build relationships and establish good repo ire, for in the future we will be calling on the U.S. Attorney for his resources in prosecuting our drug cases. I was able to achieve the one on one discussion with U.S. Attorney Blader to express our concerns regarding the meth epidemic in Washburn County. 

The fact that my opponent did not attend this meeting exhibits his lack of understanding, regarding the value and the necessity of Federal prosecution for methamphetamine dealers in Washburn County. If you are trying to be the next Sheriff, and methamphetamine is the county’s #1 problem, this was a meeting you could not afford to miss. 

Asset forfeitures processed through the federal system return 80% of the asset to Washburn County. I like the idea of having the meth dealers paying for the resources used in their apprehension. As your next Sheriff, I will continue to foster good relationships with our Federal, State, and local partners in combatting methamphetamine traffickers. Unified counterdrug operations are necessary, given our agency sizes and staffing levels. 

Within the criminal justice system, many alternatives to straight incarceration exist. Drug Court is an alternative program which creates accountability and promotes responsibility. I would like to see an additional aspect added to drug court; a coach. A drug court coach would be assigned from a pool of volunteers that come from the faith-based community. Often times the people in drug court are initially overwhelmed by the demands and timelines imposed on them. A coach could be involved in helping the candidates in the early stages of drug court with organizational skills, goal setting, and identifying positive sources of help. A coach would not provide counseling, but rather would support and encourage.

I think there is a real need in the criminal justice system to separate between drug users and drug dealers. Resources and programming should be explored for those addicted to drugs. I also believe it is imperative that drug dealers, who impact hundreds of lives, need significant punishment through sentencing. As a society, we need to recognize that methamphetamine dealers are not just affecting the lives of the addicted, but all of the family members and friends of the addicted. If a person in our community were poisoning small children, there would be outrage and swift and harsh actions taken. For some reason, we don’t react this way when meth dealers are poisoning mothers with little children.

As Sheriff, I would utilize the existing drug endangered children (DEC) team to develop a community meth response protocol. This protocol would be adopted by all stakeholders in the war against meth, in order to consistently apply programming and punishment as predetermined by the team. It will be critical to have the court involved in both the development and application of the protocol for the benefit to the community to be realized.  

Although I don’t profess to be a drug treatment expert, I have a model in mind that I have shared with my friends who are treatment professionals. This Jail to Community Transition Program has gone beyond the talking stages, and will be launched within the next few months. Most of the heavy lifting of this plan will be done by our partners at Washburn County Health and Human Services Department. Phase one of the plan would start within the confines of the jail, where we have often provided sobriety for inmates. Prior to, or at release from jail, inmates are at great risk of returning to the same influences that contributed to their addiction. I would like to think that with close support and direction we could maintain and build on the sobriety achieved in jail. Professional counseling would be necessary for several weeks prior to release from jail, to prepare for the post release programming. Once released, intensive counseling and treatment programs would be provided by AODA professionals. Additional coaching and some educational programming could be completed by trained volunteers who understand the recovery process.

Once a problem is identified, I will be a Sheriff who works to connect with the right partners to engage in effective action plans. (See some of my past projects at RichterforSheriff.com)

It will take longer to develop phase two of the above described plan. Ideally, we would provide short-term housing for the participants, where support and programming can take place without the negative influences that were present prior to incarceration. Phase two will require partnerships and funding sources that extend beyond the borders of Washburn County. Multi-county programming and cooperation is highly desired in State and Federal funding award programs. Greater resources from multiple county participation will help the Jail to Community Transition Program grow into a life-changing opportunity for those who desire a better future. 

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