By Dawn Aerts
Iron County Today
Jeff Malcom isn’t known all that well among drug dealers or out-of-state sellers. You might say he doesn’t want to get that well-acquainted.
However, it’s Malcom’s job to find the illegal drugs, pursue the prosecution of narcotics dealers and hopefully, provide residents with a quality of life that keeps those big sellers off of local streets and out of neighborhoods.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for over 20 years,” said Malcom from a mostly undisclosed office in Iron County – a work place that operates as a multi-agency Narcotics Task Force. Here, Malcom, along with a small contingent of others, follows the activity, patterns and in most cases, the confidential tips that come his way.
“We actually follow social media ‘talk’ to track what’s going on,” Malcom said of the multi-agency effort which links the Cedar City Police Department, (CCPD) Utah Highway Patrol, (UHP) State Bureau of Investigation, (SBI) along with Beaver-Iron-and Garfield County Sheriff Departments. “That is, we follow all those leads (purchase patterns, arrest to prosecution), and from ‘lower-level’ buys all the way up the ladder.”
This Task Force connects patterns with criminal activity. His day is a mix of following multiple buys, from search warrant issues to arrest. “Nowadays, we are buying more opiates (hard drugs like heroine) than anything else.” He points out that the price for more lethal drugs like cocaine (methamphetamine) and heroin continues to drop.
In fact, there is a real spike in his work and in the drug sales that continue to flow and sell. There were more than 120 cases generated in 2016, compared to a total of 71 in all of 2013.
While Malcom said that pill or marijuana cases were common in years past, the focus today is on major narcotics and a range of crimes.
“I have to say, that I’ve only met one person (addicted to narcotics) that did not actively use marijuana – So, if we find marijuana use going on, there’s going to be drug use too.” That said, he cautions the public to be aware of unusual activity on their street: For example, cars or trucks pulling up…and leaving all hours of the day and night.
“Parents need to (respond) when they start seeing changes in their family (patterns) or with their kids,” explained Malcom. “It’s the family member who notices behavior changes with substance abuse…So sometimes we get tips come from a relative, or a co-worker that says, ‘hey, something is (definitely) wrong and maybe drugs are involved?”
In fact, laws pertaining to drug use, trafficking and sales have gone slack with recent legislative changes moving from felony (prosecution) towards the lesser, Class A, misdemeanor charge while Malcom sees vulnerabilities in the JRI (Justice Reform Initiative) and re-classification of charges.
“There has been lots of debate about drugs, (should they be legal), but I’ve found that if we can take dealers or buyers off the streets (for a longer period of time), with a more serious charge (classification) – we can take that bag of drugs away, out of their life, and then, we can help them.”
He explains that (JRI), first launched in California, is distorting outcomes in arrests, and prosecutions as well as in penalties and data. “With this (JRI) re-classification — a drug seller, dealer may avoid a more serious felony conviction, or penalty, so the numbers and activity may ‘appear’ to go down,” said Malcom, “But that’s not the reality.”
From where the Task Force sits, the system is not working if authorities are not getting the dealer off the streets for any length of time. That’s where the impact of Federal Law comes into play with a multi-disciplinary group of agencies who can be actively involved. That said, when drug sales are linked to guns and/or crime, Federal charges can apply. Today, Malcom’s team is grounded in public safety and quality of life issues for all of Utah’s families and communities.
“If the drug (dealer) or seller is arrested for larger amounts of narcotics, or with the accompanying use of guns, there can be more (incarceration) time with Federal charges,” Malcom said, “So it’s not uncommon to have several agencies, from county to local authorities involved.”
In many cases, the I-15 corridor is an active zone for trafficking routes and operations. “I-15 is definitely a corridor that runs directly out of California on to Colorado, and then branches out across the country,” said Malcom of current patterns. He notes that many of the incidents authorities encounter begin with traffic stops by local police departments or the UHP.
In one recent case, two individuals were stopped (traveling at 95 mph); jumped out of their vehicle, ran into local neighborhoods, invaded homes and jeopardized the safety of schools and residents. “So the people involved in high-stakes drug sales and (distribution), have nothing to lose and they are desperate to do their haul.”
In that case, authorities interrupted 25.8 pounds of methamphetamine and 9.1 pounds of lethal cocaine with the assistance of a trained (K-9) and subsequent vehicle search. The arrest of Roberto Lorenzo-Ruiz, 29, (Los Angeles, Calif.,) and Manuel Romero Gallardo, 39, (unknown origin) would net an estimated street value (sale) of $ 1.6 million had it been delivered, as planned.
“We basically needed to issue an emergency alert that morning – warning the Cedar City Hospital to lock their doors as well as doing a precautionary lock down at Fiddler’s Elementary School,” said Malcom. “Our goal is to take out the key players who are here, those who are at the center of narcotics trafficking or sales.”
Malcom who spent his growing up years in New Mexico and Texas, said he knows what it is to live in an area that has serious issues with drug traffic and gangs. “That’s why I fell in love with Southern Utah so many years ago… the people here; the close family ties and outdoor life-style was so appealing. So, this is where I wanted to raise my kids.”
Our Task Force and agencies, he said, are highly motivated to do the best job with the highest standards — thanks to solid leadership and policies.
Though Iron County and other areas of Utah are still mostly insulated from the ravages of drug use and crime, the geography is not. “We have high school kids here that have never seen marijuana or other drugs,” said Malcom, “But we are also close to routes through Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, as drugs move up and down the Interstate.”
He is quick to point out, that if you took all of the crimes, stacked them up on the table, you would see that the one underlying issue with domestic abuse, burglary, child abuse and theft — is narcotics. “We know that drug (distribution) is getting into large and small communities, so we have to pick it off here.”
The ‘confidential’ TIPLINE to report suspicious activity is 435-867-JUST (5878).