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Traffickers can’t roll with DICE:Sheriff’s drug team making Lincoln’s highways hostile territory for narcotics transit

Lincoln County Deputy BillySiebenhaar pulls overa vehicle N.C. 321 Wednesday.             By Seth Mabry

 

The Harven A. Crouse Detention Center in Lincolnton may be holding more drug suspects than ever as the new sheriff’s administration has taken a radical initiative to take drug traffickers off Lincoln County’s streets.

The Drug Interdiction Criminal Enforcement team, or DICE, is the main force that has been targeting drug suspects, a majority of whom are out-of-state residents apprehended along the county’s major highways, including U.S. 321 and N.C. 16.

“If the road has a number, we work it,” Lt. Jason Reid said.

Reid, who has led the sheriff’s DICE and SWAT teams since Sheriff David Carpenter and his new command staff took office in December 2010, said the main purpose of the DICE team is “to deter the criminal element from traveling through Lincoln County.”

“They’re out there doing more than selling drugs,” he added.

The DICE team officially commenced their duties on Jan. 6, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

A majority of drug money and currency is seized along U.S. 321, a connector route between Interstate 85 to the south and Interstate 40 to the north, major highways that traffickers use to travel north-and-south and east-to-west throughout the United States.

Reid noted that attorneys and other critics are sometimes not convinced that the deputies’ actions and motives are vast and pure, claiming that they’re only out to write speeding tickets or seize drugs and money.

“We are actually finding fugitives and doing vehicle assists, too” Reid said.

He also disputes any blinded notions about the limits of the DICE team’s responsibilities, offering the example of a traffic stop in Nash County that occurred not long after he and the Lincoln County DICE team trained the other agency’s officers.

During the Nash County vehicle stop, officers found a missing 12-year-old girl who had been kidnapped and was being transported from one state to another, Reid said.

Reid’s prior experience with catching drug traffickers along Interstate 77 in Iredell County with their Interstate Criminal Enforcement team (ICE), has aided Lincoln County’s DICE team in becoming quite successful in only a matter of months. Of the 10 “local law enforcement drug interdiction teams” that exist throughout North Carolina, Lincoln County currently ranks as the state’s second-largest team. The seven-member Iredell County ICE team outnumbers Lincoln County’s DICE team by just one member.

Currently, Sheriff Carpenter has no plans to add any more deputies to the DICE team. He would, however, consider adding another officer to the Narcotics team to aid “their strong efforts and aggressive work,” he said.

The North Carolina State Highway Patrol is also in charge of nearly 20 interdiction teams throughout the state.

The Sheriff’s DICE team averages three to seven stops daily, and of the 315 vehicle stops that have been initiated since January, an increase in recent years, 182 incidents have resulted in vehicle searches, authorities said. In addition, eight vehicles have actually been seized.

Deputies are never quick to stop just any vehicle, but they often look for certain “indicators” that will clue them in on which ones to stop and potentially search.

They will stop a vehicle for any infraction, Reid said.

He noted that deputies might be out on a certain stretch of roadway for 12 hours without making any stops. Then, in one brief second, that one car comes along that they immediately know to stop, he said.

Reid was reluctant to talk on the record about the indicators. However, he noted that “each officer has his own specialty” when it comes to recognizing suspicious vehicles.

Although it’s often found in small quantities, crack cocaine is the most frequently seen illegal substance on the county’s roadways, Reid said. But it’s far from the only drug passing  through.

Early on in the DICE team’s initiatives, officers seized eight kilos of powder cocaine, making it the largest powder cocaine seizure in county history.

Commonly seized prescription drugs include Xanax and Hydrocodone. Currently, the total amounts of drugs seized by DICE officers include 10 ounces of crack cocaine, 17 pounds of powder cocaine, 12 pounds of marijuana and 20 grams of heroin, authorities said.

In addition, the drug seizures have resulted in more than 130 charges, including 56 felonies.

All seized drugs are kept on-hand at the Sheriff’s Office until a case goes to trial. The drugs are then incinerated, Reid said.

In addition, seized currency is handed over to the Sheriff’s Office, but must first be adopted by a national agency such as Customs or the Drug Enforcement Association (DEA). So far this year, DICE officers have seized an excess of $25,000, deputies said.

Between February and May, drug activity along the county’s highways waned as did officers’ motivation, Reid said. He noted how traffic patterns on the roadways periodically change, resulting in the fluctuation of arrest numbers.

Therefore, Reid likes to send the DICE team to as many trainings across the area as possible to continually incite them to carry out their responsibilities.

“It’s all about confidence,” he said. “We did good right out of the gate.”

Reid noted how by hearing other agencies’ stories and watching drug seizure videos at trainings, the men are greatly inspired.

While Lincoln County DICE works full-time, they don’t work every day, despite their ability and the roadway’s need for constant vigilance.

“We could work every day,” Lt. Reid said, “but then we would have to split up, and we work better when we work all together.”

Reid noted that the profile of a DICE team deputy involves a proactive, A-type personality. “Someone who wants to come to work and be out there,” he said.

“It’s important to make these arrests and get suspects off the highways because, not only are we helping county citizens but also citizens in neighboring and out-of-state locations. It (drugs) has to get in somehow because planes don’t fly in and drop parachutes at the local Lincolnton-Lincoln County Regional Airport.”

Sheriff Carpenter’s more than proud of his staff’s high success rate with arrests, particularly noting the DICE team’s “proactive” nature.

“I look for many, many good things to keep happening,” he said.

JENNA-LEY HARRISON, Staff Writer

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