Van Beek: Hard work gets drugs off the street

As we watch the evolution of events taking place on the other side of the world, we are reminded that we live in a world of uncertainty, one that can be quite dangerous, and the value of safety is priceless.

And, while we are not engaged in a war, we still receive threats from a variety of sources, from around and within the safety of our communities. Many of those threats are handled before we ever experience the danger from someone on the front line of those perils.

As a community with an interstate corridor running through it, we have the convenience of access, with most travelers being just like us — going from one point to another … ski races, shopping, soccer games, dinner with friends, etc. Yet, we must be alert to the fact that the same convenience also attracts those with nefarious intent. With some of them comes a level of danger that can be deadly.

Within our neighborhoods, we live our daily lives in relative safety. However, our valley is not the Vail area of yesteryear. We have seen an increase in drug use, and sadly, subsequent deaths. There are women and children being trafficked across the state.

There are homicides committed by those who may seem fine, but due to substance abuse clouding their judgment, will react in uncharacteristic ways, which can lead to deadly actions. There are also those whose thoughts automatically go to a very dark place, where evil resides, and act accordingly. Either way, the danger is very real, and while we are busy working, taking care of kids, and essentially going about our business, these dangers are growing around us. They are not merely arbitrary statistics.

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Our sense of security is both a blessing and a vulnerability, as drug cartels and human trafficking gangs (often associated with the drug trade) seek our safest communities as ideal places to base their operations because they can hide in plain sight, within neighborhoods where suspicion is low, and trust is the default base.

Law enforcement provides that safety barrier with a pledge to “protect and serve.” Family and loved ones are left behind, as they walk out the door of their homes, not knowing if they will return that night … and they do it because of a deep passion and commitment to help those who are not in a position to help themselves.

When a call comes in, and a child is discovered dead from a drug overdose, as the sobbing mother cradles her baby, with a look of horror and disbelief, we become even more dedicated to eliminating the silent threat that has consumed our neighborhoods.

When a young person goes missing, disappearing like they never existed, we know that they came face-to-face with an evil they never expected. And as time goes on they are unlikely to ever be found again, leaving families with a pain so deep, they never recover. Their loved one could be dead or kidnapped into a slavery operation that is global, and their captor’s best source of “merchandise” are safe neighborhoods … where doors remain unlocked and children joyfully play on their own, feeling comfortable talking to strangers and even walking away with them.

Sheriff’s offices and police departments work hard on multiple levels to assure the safety of our neighborhoods, yet these types of crimes are much more elaborate than the traditional issues facing all communities. The investigations go deeper, often with national or global connections. It requires multi-jurisdictional efforts, with unique skills, funding and targeted time.

Because so many of the most serious crimes involve the drug trade, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and the Vail Police Department, in conjunction with local and regional agencies, have formed the Gore Range Narcotics Interdiction Team, known as GRANITE. It’s comprised of full-time deputies, officers, and a highly trained K-9.

A traffic stop can become a deadly encounter. Drug cartels are not too forgiving of their henchmen if they are caught, causing the cartel to lose the stash of drugs and cash that were entrusted to them. They will likely face torture and even death for not delivering the product. Therefore, an immediate sense of desperation ensues when pulled over by law enforcement, creating a highly volatile and extremely dangerous situation, which takes tremendous skill to contain.

Special assessment and tactical training are required to keep the situation from becoming a shootout, which endangers others. This small group of exceptional people and their incredible K-9 have saved countless lives by confiscating a substantial amount of drugs. When you consider that one blue M-30 fentanyl pill can kill someone, imagine the number of deaths even an ounce can cause. GRANITE has seized pounds of it.

Over the past year, GRANITE has made 42 arrests, securing over $100,000 cash from illegal narcotics, 17 pounds of fentanyl, 183 pounds of methamphetamines, 54 pounds of heroin, 15 pounds of cocaine, and 400 pounds of illegal marijuana.

Contrary to conspiracy theorists, catching these criminals does not involve wiretapping or entrapment. What it takes is old-fashioned investigative police work: following leads, interviewing people, reviewing records and utilizing pure skills and instinct.

The members of GRANITE are immensely appreciative to both the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and Vail Police Department for sponsoring this team, and with gratitude to the Avon, Eagle and Basalt Police Departments for their unwavering support, and special thanks to the people of Eagle County.

I am so very proud of all of the hard work, sacrifice, and dedication this team has shown and the positive impact they have made in our community.

To contact GRANITE, call 970-479-2201.

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