Drug task force to move its headquarters

The Anoka-Hennepin Narcotics and Violent Crimes Task Force will be moving into new quarters.

Since its inception in 1996, the task force, which comprises officers from law enforcement agencies in Anoka and Hennepin counties, has been operating out of a rented office in Coon Rapids.

But early in 2013 it will be moving into remodeled space at the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office in Andover.

The Anoka County Board Nov. 13 approved a purchase of service agreement with RAK Construction, Inc., Ham Lake, to handle the remodeling work at a cost of not to exceed $77,768.

The project will include finishing now vacant space to include an administrative work station and enclosed office with two work stations, large space for 10 cubicle work spaces, an open area with a conference table and an area for supply storage.

The money for the project will come from the task force’s forfeiture fund, which derives its revenues from cash and property, such as vehicles, seized from suspects arrested by the task force, according to Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart.

The lease for the task force office space in Coon Rapids will soon be expiring and moving the task force to the sheriff’s office has several advantages, Stuart told the county board in a memo.

• Cost saving for not having to pay rent.

• Increased efficiency in evidence handling and processing with an on-site property room and crime lab.

• Increased level of supervision as the task force commander will be on site.

According to Stuart, the task force commander, Lt. Bryon Fuerst, is located at the sheriff’s office at the public safety center, while the rest of the task force is at the Coon Rapids office.

The task force comprises 10 investigators from eight law enforcement agencies – Anoka County Sheriff’s Office and the police departments of Anoka, Blaine, Champlin, Coon Rapids, Columbia Heights, Fridley and Maple Grove.

There are two supervisors, a sergeant from the sheriff’s office and a sergeant from the Fridley Police Department, while the sheriff’s office provides two other deputies and Coon Rapids two police officers with the other agencies supplying one each.

In Fuerst’s view, the decision to switch the task force to the sheriff’s office is a “very good move.”

Funding for the task force comes from a state grant through the Minnesota Department of Public Safety as well as the participating agencies, according to Fuerst.

The county board Nov. 13 also approved a grant agreement amendment with Minnesota Department of Public Safety for continuation of the state grant for the 2013 calendar year.

The amount of $240,000 is the same as the 2012 figure.

A portion of the state grant dollars pays overtime costs of task force investigators, while the participating agencies pick up the regular salary and benefits of their officers in the task force, Fuerst said.

Fuerst provided the following 2011 statistics for the task force:

• Number of arrests: 576.

• Possession of drug arrests: 437.

• Felony level arrests: 553 (96 percent).

• Two arrested suspects charged at the federal level.

• Seizures include 42 handguns, 62 grams of heroin, 1.6 pounds of cocaine, 4.62 pounds of methamphetamine, 1,090 prescription pills and 81.2 pounds of marijuana.

• Four meth labs were shut down.

While focusing on the cities in Anoka County which provide officers to the task force, it investigates drug-related crimes throughout the county, Fuerst said.

According to Stuart, the task force’s move to the sheriff’s office will make for a “more efficient, streamlined operation.”

When drug task forces such as the Anoka-Hennepin agency were created in the 1990s, it was recommended they be housed away from sheriff’s offices/police stations, Stuart said.

That view has changed and the state auditor has expressed concern that the Anoka-Hennepin task force is not at a law enforcement location, he said.

This move will satisfy that concern, Stuart said.

“This is a prudent move,” he said.

According to Stuart, the Anoka-Hennepin task force is right at the top for arrests compared with similar task forces in the state and has a reputation second to none.

“The task force has made a significant contribution to the anti-heroin campaign,” Stuart said.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]