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Week of 5.23.08

Meth and Crime: A Sheriff's Insight

Chris Smith, sheriff of Canyon County in Idaho NOW speaks to Chris Smith, sheriff of Canyon County in Idaho, about how methamphetamine use has affected law enforcement in the community he's responsible for keeping safe. Smith also discusses the changes he's seen since the new Idaho Meth Project was set up, and reveals why he asked his staff to help fund the project. This is an edited transcript of our interview with Smith.

NOW: From a law-enforcement perspective, how does the methamphetamine problem affect Idaho?

Chris Smith (CS): Methamphetamine has been affecting all the counties in Idaho. One of the reasons is because we are still primarily a rural state. And there's not a whole lot of law enforcement present here in many areas of Idaho. Methamphetamine is generating many of our arrests, which is creating overpopulation in all of our jails. We've had overcrowding issues now for upwards of ten years, and of course it just keeps getting worse.

NOW: That must put a lot of pressure on the prison-system.

"[The advertisements have] been very effective, because they're so graphic and real to life."
CS: It puts a lot of pressure on not just county jails, but also the state prison system. They are overloaded to the point that we've got hundreds of inmates being incarcerated out of state.

NOW: What kind of crime is associated with methamphetamine use?

CS: We've seen an increase in violent crime, a lot of theft to support habits, and there have been a lot of drive-by shootings. You see a large increase in domestic violence because of meth use and other associated drugs. You see an increase in rape because the women involved are oftentimes using and part of the drug trade itself.

NOW: When somebody is arrested for meth, what happens to them?

CS: For the most part, people who are in custody for meth-related issues are picked up for some other crime. But people who are arrested for possession or delivery, they're processed through the court system, just like any other crime. We have a system here in Canyon County that allows first time offenders to go through drug court hearings in Canyon County, which is an intensive program that's anywhere from a year to two years. And if you successfully complete the entire program, your charge is erased off the books.

NOW: In your opinion, what's the best way for meth-addicts to recover?

CS: The biggest thing is you need a support group around you. If you don't have a probation officer, you've got to have the will to change your lifestyle to begin with. But then you also need to have somebody looking over your shoulder and pushing you to do the right thing and make the right choices. If you don't have somebody that cares about you and is making sure that you're doing the right things, then the addiction is generally so great that it's pretty tough to make that life change.

NOW: What programs are available to inmates in Canyon County who are dealing with meth addiction?

CS: Inside the facility, we've got a drug and alcohol intervention counselor that works with the inmates here. We've got a lot of faith based organizations that come into the facility on a daily basis.

NOW: Are the programs effective in dealing with the problem?

"The best thing is we're getting this message out so that parents and grandparents understand the signs [of meth addiction]"
CS: Methamphetamine is so absolutely addictive that it's been a challenge simply because the people who are using generally run into additional issues that relate to their health: their teeth fall apart, they end up with hair loss. We're now finding that many of our inmates that we're holding in the county jail now have mental issues as well.

NOW: Do you have mental-health counselors to deal with those issues?

CS: That would be nice. But all of this intervention takes money and there's just so much money to go around.

NOW: Have you seen the Meth Project advertisements?

CS: They just started running the advertisements here in the last four to five months. And they've been very effective, because they're so graphic and real to life. I've heard a lot of comments about them, about how people just really didn't understand the extent of the addiction that a lot of people are now experiencing.

NOW: Do you think the campaign will help solve the problem?

CS: I guess time will tell how beneficial it is to our state. But as you probably well know, the Montana Meth Project has had a dramatic decrease in meth use in the state of Montana.

NOW: The Idaho Meth Project has relied on a lot of grassroots donations. Has the Sheriffs Department been involved?

CS: When the Meth Project started here in Idaho, I asked my employees to participate in a voluntary payroll deduction to help support the Idaho Meth Project. And I have 206 employees that signed up for automatic payroll deduction and we gave a check to the Idaho Meth Project just recently for $17,555. For the most part, that was only $2.50 per paycheck. It just kind of goes to show you that a little bit will go a long way if you get some meaningful participation.

NOW: Has the Idaho Meth Project had any affect so far?

CS: One of the things that we're seeing here lately since the Idaho Meth Project has really fired up, is that more kids in school are reporting drug activity. They're going straight to their counselors and teachers and making them aware that their friends and fellow students are either using or talking about using.

NOW: What do you think the Idaho Meth Project will achieve?

CS: The best thing is we're getting this message out so that parents and grandparents understand the signs. They're more aware of what to be looking for, and if they see a need for intervention they step in and make that happen.