DEA: Half of Wisconsin meth labs found in Walworth and Rock counties
Half of the methamphetamine labs identified by law enforcement in Wisconsin since October have been found in Walworth and Rock counties.
Of the 26 meth labs law enforcement have identified and cleaned up in fiscal year 2017, which started Oct. 1, 2016, nine have been in Walworth County and four in Rock County, according to data from the Drug Enforcement Administration Milwaukee office.
Only two meth labs were discovered in Walworth County in fiscal years 2012, 2013 and 2014, according to the data. Six were found in 2015, eight in 2016 and nine in the first seven months of fiscal year 2017.
The Drug Enforcement Administration runs on a fiscal year of Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.
Law enforcement officials have said the meth labs found in this area are the one-pot meth cooks that can be made in plastic bottles using ingredients purchased at pharmacies or hardware stores. The one-pots can explode and cause serious chemical damage.
Walworth County sheriff's Capt. Robert Hall, who supervises the Walworth County Drug Unit, first credited the number of meth labs in his county to “solid police work.” The drug unit worked diligently to develop leads, utilize informants and investigate cases, he said.
Hall came up with a few hypotheses as to why half of the state's identified meth labs have been in the area.
He said the Walworth County Drug Unit has one important thing other counties might not have: time.
“When we are out and about and working, developing these cases, looking and spending the time to look for the methamphetamine cases that are out there, it all relates back to the word 'time,'” Hall said.
Hall contrasted the time his drug unit has to investigate meth with that of neighboring counties that have to focus on other drugs infiltrating larger, more urban areas.
“If I was a betting man, I'd tell you that there's methamphetamine in the west end of Kenosha County and the west end of Racine County,” Hall said. “Are they identifying it and locating it? No.
“What are the reasons? They have large urban areas, large cities within their jurisdiction that require extensive enforcement for drug operations,” he said. “When you're looking at the trafficking of cocaine and heroin and marijuana in those large urban areas … They have a problem that is out and about and that everybody sees on a continuous basis that they're fighting.”
Hall said it doesn't mean his counterparts aren't looking for meth, but their focus might be elsewhere.
A sergeant and four deputies are assigned to the drug unit. Lake Geneva police on Feb. 1 sent an officer to work with the drug unit full-time, Lake Geneva police Lt. Ed Gritzner said.
Hall said it is the first time another police agency has contributed an officer to the sheriff's office drug unit in “quite some time.”
“Does it help? Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “We have another body that's out combating drugs in the county.”
Another reason for meth's local prevalence could be geography. Walworth County is not as rural as some places, but it's still a rural county for the most part, Hall said.
“We're sort of in a unique situation of being right between rural and urban,” Hall said. “If you look at Walworth County, 50 percent of the population is living in unincorporated jurisdictions and 50 percent of the population is living in incorporated jurisdictions.”
Cities and villages are incorporated and towns are unincorporated.
Walworth County is still relatively large, meaning law enforcement agencies have more officers than more rural counties. Walworth County is the 14th largest county in the state, with about 102,000 people.
In urban cities, such as Kenosha, population 99,894, drugs are more often found in specific spots, Hall said. In Walworth County, the locations are “sprinkled” throughout the county.
In recent years, Walworth County authorities have found meth labs in Lake Geneva hotels, the town of Richmond, Whitewater, Elkhorn, town of Geneva, town of Bloomfield, Genoa City and even in the middle of the road, Hall said.
“It can be anywhere,” Hall said.
Rock County sheriff's Cmdr. Troy Knudson said he hopes the four meth labs found in Rock County are not indicators of an uptick in meth locally, but he said they have to keep monitoring it.
Because meth incidents are increasing statewide, that could partly explain why it's on the rise in Rock County, he said.
Statewide, the number of meth labs discovered has increased consistently, rising from 14 in fiscal year 2012 to 47 in 2016.
Knudson said it's difficult to draw too many conclusions from a dataset as small as four incidents—two of which are related—in Rock County.
“I don't like having a few cases here in the last year,” Knudson said. “But I continue to see reports on a regular basis. Marijuana cases occur very frequently. Heroin cases occur very frequently. It's still fairly unusual to see methamphetamine cases.”
Still, any amount of meth is concerning and worth serious attention because of how harmful it can be, he said.
“Methamphetamine is a drug that is at our highest priority in terms of enforcement activity,” he said. “The drug is incredibly dangerous for the users, and the way those users act when they're on the drug is also very dangerous. Additionally, the byproducts of making methamphetamine are highly toxic.
“We see that drug as a very serious threat to public safety,” he said. “That's why that is one of our highest focuses.”
Correction: The Drug Enforcement Administration sent two corrections Tuesday to the original data points it provided. The state total of identified labs for fiscal year 2016 is 46 and two labs were identified in Walworth County in fiscal year 2013.