Harrison County adds interdiction team to combat drugs, crime - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Harrison County adds interdiction team to combat drugs, crime

Posted: Updated:

A new interdiction team will be patrolling Harrison County highways to slow the flow of illegal drugs into the region.

U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld, II, West Virginia State Police Captain James Merrill and Bridgeport Police Chief John Walker unveiled the Mountaineer Highway Interdiction Team on Thursday, Feb. 6, and detailed successful patrols by the unit that have already taken place.

Ihlenfeld said the team, also known as MHIT South, is tasked with enhancing interdiction operations in order to slow the flow of illegal drugs into and through North Central West Virginia. The team's major focus will be on highways and state routes, but it will also concentrate on airports, bus terminals, hotels, motels, and parcel and package interdiction. Member agencies are the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, West Virginia State Police, Bridgeport police and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District.

In addition to enhancing regional highway interdiction operations, MHIT South will have the added benefit of disrupting criminal organizations operating within West Virginia and of preserving citizen safety on West Virginia highways through effective traffic and commercial vehicle enforcement. It will also assist in investigating kidnappings, bank robberies, Amber Alerts and interstate theft; the detection and recovery of firearms; human trafficking and immigration violations; and fugitive apprehension.

MHIT South will support the Greater Harrison County Drug Task Force and other law enforcement agencies in the region and be available to act upon intelligence related to drug trafficking.

The unit is the second of its kind in West Virginia: Ihlenfeld said the first MHIT unit was formed in the Northern Panhandle in 2011 and consists of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. In 2013, the northern version of MHIT made 235 arrests, with 98 of those for felonies, and seized more than 1,600 dosage units of prescription drugs, including oxycodone, hydrocodone and other painkillers. It also seized large amounts of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana along with firearms and other stolen property. Nearly $40,000 in U.S. currency was recovered and forfeited as proceeds of illegal drug trafficking.

MHIT South has been in operation since the end of 2013 and its officers have already made more than 50 arrests, with nearly half of them drug-related. The unit has recovered large amounts of diverted prescription medication as well as over half a kilogram of marijuana. In addition, quantities of heroin and methamphetamine have been seized along with two firearms and $6,960 in U.S. currency. One fugitive was apprehended, two search warrants were obtained and eight informants were developed. The team is presently made up of West Virginia State Troopers and City of Bridgeport police officers, including a K-9 officer. The MHIT executive board hopes to add more officers in 2014.

"MHIT South will provide an aggressive response to drug trafficking and other forms of criminal activity that we're faced with in North Central West Virginia," said Ihlenfeld. "It has been highly successful in other parts of the Northern District, and I'm confident that it will make a big impact here and change the way we fight crime in Harrison County."

Merrill said law enforcement "must work together to implement a comprehensive strategy in order to combat the epidemic of drug abuse in our region."

"The concept of highway interdiction, when practiced on a consistent basis, greatly increases the pressure placed upon drug dealers and makes them uncomfortable to the point that they often elect to go elsewhere to do business," he said.

Walker, meanwhile, said the multi-agency unit "is about pooling our resources and working together with a common goal."

"That goal is to ensure the safety and protection of our citizens and precious future generations from the drug epidemic," he said. "We will seek out, arrest, and prosecute those individuals who choose to benefit financially from the sale of illegal narcotics in our community."