Some residents might be surprised, but the fact that drugs are available in elementary schools is nothing new to law officers fighting narcotics trafficking in Utah County.
"Our county has a drug problem," Orem Police Sgt. Terry Taylor told members of the county Council of Governments during the group's monthly meeting Thursday.Taylor, joined by Sheriff's Capt. Owen Quarnberg, said successfully battling that problem is going to require more money and more interagency cooperation.
Orem Mayor Blaine Willes and County Commissioner Sid Sandberg agreed. Willes said he feels local leaders in Utah County can do more to fight drug trafficking, and he called for a united political effort to pressure the state for additional funding.
Willes also asked for unity among local municipalities, and COG members passed a resolution encouraging more cooperation from members of the county's association of police chiefs.
As an example of the county's growing drug problem, Taylor said, last year a task force in north Utah County made 350 illegal drug buys.
The task force - with law enforcement representatives from Pleasant Grove, Alpine, Lehi, American Fork and now Orem - made 120 related arrests. Ninety percent resulted in felony convictions, and 20 percent involved juveniles.
"We're seeing an increase in cocaine," said Taylor, who oversees narcotics investigations in Orem. "We're seeing more and more of that on the street."
Last month in Orem, he said, four junior high school students were arrested for selling drugs. He said it's no longer uncommon for junior high school students to peddle drugs at elementary schools.
"They don't have to work," he said. "There's a lot of money in drugs for these kids."
However, there isn't a lot of money for local law enforcement agencies to battle the drug trade. While Salt Lake County will get about $190,000 from state coffers this year to battle drug trafficking, Utah County will receive only $19,000, Taylor said.
He said the county has become more adept at seizing assets from drug pushers, but the state must improve its method of parceling out to counties cash raised from the sale of those assets.
Nevertheless, local agencies have steadily improved drug-fighting efforts with available resources, Quarnberg said.
"But we're not getting better as fast as we need to" to keep up with the growing problem. And, "the credit is something we're going to quit worrying about."
To be successful in the fight against drugs, he said, education must be coupled with law enforcement.
"We need to start it (education) in the grade schools, as far as I'm concerned," Taylor said. The less drug trafficking there is on the streets, the less overall crime there will be in the community, he said.
In addition, Quarnberg said, municipal leaders must convince local judges to give stiff jail and prison sentences to dealers.