Area drug activity up sharply in 2013, task force says

In 2013, the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force seized more than $1.2 million in illegal narcotics and initiated 265 investigations involving drugs, gangs and other criminal activity. Seizures of heroin and marijuana by the task force increased dramatically in 2013, according to an end-of-year report released last week.

Marijuana seized in a Blue Ridge Task Force raid last year.Courtesy photo
Marijuana seized in a Blue Ridge Task Force raid last year.

The multi-jurisdictional drug- and gang-focused task force, one of the largest of the 30 such Virginia State Police-sponsored teams around the state, is officially responsible for investigations in the counties of Culpeper, Fauquier, Greene, Madison and Orange.

Until two years ago, its jurisdiction also included Rappahannock County, but the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office declined to participate in the task force in 2012 due for budgetary and personnel reasons, according to Sheriff Connie C. Smith.

Of the task force’s 265 investigations in 2013, seven occurred in Rappahannock County; there were 14 other cases in other non-participating jurisdictions, including the counties of Albemarle, Fairfax, Fluvanna and Spotsylvania, the city of Charlottesville and the town of Gordonsville.

Last year the task force executed 37 search warrants and facilitated 99 undercover drug purchases. Other types of investigations included “buy/bust” cases (an arrest made immediately after a drug sale), conspiracy cases (usually investigated with such federal agencies as the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents), “eradication” (searching for marijuana plants), fugitive arrests and interdiction-based cases.

The drugs of choice in the area, according to the report, are heroin, marijuana and prescription medications. According to the DEA, this is consistent with national trends.

In 2013, the task force seized 205 doses (grams) of heroin — compared to three doses in 2012.

Marijuana seizures also increased significantly in 2013. More than 33 pounds of marijuana were seized last year, compared to 6.7 pounds in 2012. The task force also saw a 40-percent rise in the number of prescription drugs seized over the year before.

Described as a growing concern in the report were increases in the number of firearms illegally possessed, methamphetamine labs and gang activity: 29 firearms were seized in 2013 (nine in 2012, 19 in 2011). The task force located and dismantled four meth labs in 2013 and identified 265 outlaw motorcycle and street gang members or associates (including mostly Bloods, Crips, Pagans and Warlocks)

More than $82,000 in U.S. currency and numerous electronic devices were seized in 2013 (in 2012: $31,609 in currency, $18,491 in 2011). Some of the largest seizures in 2013 included an ounce of heroin in Orange County worth $10,000 on the street, 195 marijuana plants in Greene County (street value: $665,000) and more than $31,000 in cash in Fairfax County.

The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force is comprised of detectives and investigators from the Culpeper and Orange police departments, the sheriff’s offices in Culpeper, Fauquier, Greene, Orange and Madison counties, and special agents from the state police’s criminal investigation drug enforcement section.

Sheriff Smith said Rappahannock’s direct participation in the task force has been affected by budget and personnel issues — it being challenging to keep the uniformed department fully staffed over the last two years, she said, with suitable undercover officers even harder to find. “We’re a small department,” she said, noting that participation in the task force requires devoting a full-time staffer and a vehicle to the plainclothes/undercover task force, plus paying a share of administrative costs.

The task force’s report included contact information for anyone with information regarding the possession, distribution or manufacture of illegal narcotics or gang activity (outlaw motorcycle or street gangs): Call or email the task force at 540-547-2997 or BRNGTF@gmail.com. Contact information (your telephone or email address) will be kept confidential.

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