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Spanish Fork to hire drug officer

Councilman says addictions are at epidemic levels

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SPANISH FORK — A new drug officer will soon probe the seedy underbelly of small-town narcotics.

Illegal drug addictions have risen to epidemic levels in this south Utah County town of 23,000, City Councilman Matt Barber said Tuesday, as he successfully urged councilmen to create a drug education and enforcement post with a $90,000 budget. Previously the council budgeted just $500 annually for tips and stings on drug cases.

"Our families are under attack," Barber said. "There is a drug problem in our community."

Only Councilman Paul Christiansen hesitated on the request, noting police are already getting two new officers, one to fill a vacant position and one to fill a new position paid by a federal grant. He suggested one of those officers could take over the drug enforcement task.

Barber said that would not be enough.

"We could pack this room and out into the foyer with families who have been affected (by illegal drugs)," Barber said. An increasing number of teens and young adults are being caught up in the drug culture regardless of family or background, Barber said.

"Over the past several years we've seen more of a problem," Police Chief Dee Rosenbaum said. "It's a big social problem."

Spanish Fork police are doing as well as they can with the resources they have, he said. One Spanish Fork police officer also works with the countywide Major Crimes Task Force.

"This cannot be totally solved by police alone," Lt. Carl Johnston told the Deseret Morning News.

Residents have helped by keeping an eye on their neighborhoods, which has led to search warrants and arrests. When investigators dig deep enough on nearly any crime from thefts to assaults, what they find usually points to drugs or alcohol as a root cause, Johnston said.

Barber cited statistics from the police department that show 98 percent of the felony crimes committed in Spanish Fork since January were drug-related.

Rosenbaum said he would assign a seasoned officer to the job and use the new position to replace that officer. Staffing and training should be complete by September, he said.

E-mail: rodger@desnews.com