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Undercover narcotics work uncountable, police say

News Photo by Julie Riddle D/Lt. Stuart Sharp, center, commander of the Huron Undercover Narcotics Team, discusses the team’s work at a HUNT board meeting on Friday at the Presque Isle County Courthouse as, from left, Presque Isle County Sheriff Joe Brewbaker, Alcona County Prosecutor Thomas Weichel, Detective 1st Lt. Kip Belcher of the Michigan State Police-7th District, and 1st Lt. John Grimshaw, commander of the MSP-Alpena Post, listen.

ALPENA — Narcotics traffickers increasingly import a lethal drug into Northeast Michigan, police say.

A Huron Undercover Narcotics Team investigation led to the arrest last week of Ray Rowe, 18, of Alpena, who police caught carrying 100 grams of fentanyl, a drug often added to other drugs to increase their potency.

Rowe carried the drugs compressed into a block roughly the size of a suet cake. Police have not seen such packaging for the drug locally, HUNT Commander Detective Lt. Stuart Sharp told the HUNT board on Friday.

Such packaging, common in larger cities, showing up in Alpena means the drug is coming north in larger amounts — a deadly prospect when fentanyl equal to two grains of salt can kill, Sharp said.

Such arrests comprise only a portion of HUNT’s work, however.

Sharp described recent HUNT activity assisting other agencies, including surveillance of multiple suspects and searches of dozens of acres of woods related to the disappearance of Alpena teenager Brynn Bills.

Police found Bills’ body buried behind an Alpena Township home last month.

The team recently helped Iosco County police track and find a man wanted for 21 counts of sexual assault and found and preserved shell casings after a shooting in Montmorency County, Sharp said.

A recent effort by the HUNT board to count such agency assists may prove impossible because such numerical tracking falls flat in comparison to the work actually conducted by the team, Alcona County Prosecutor Thomas Weichel said

HUNT’s very presence reduces crime, Alpena Police Department Joel Jett said.

“The bad guys know they’re out there,” Jett said. “They don’t know where they are or what they’re doing, but they know the HUNT team is looking about. You can’t capture that impact in a number.”

Recently, HUNT assistance led to the Alcona County arrest of an Alpena resident who has endangered residents in multiple counties, board members said.

The man, now, “is looking at an extensive stay downstate” in prison, Weichel said.

Arrest and drug seizure numbers, while easier to quantify than agency assists, fail to show where drug trade actually happens, noted advisory panel member Carolyn Brummund, Alcona County commissioner.

“Criminals don’t know where the county line is,” Brummund said.

People hoping to sell drugs may gravitate to Alpena, leading to higher arrest counts in Alpena County than elsewhere in Northeast Michigan. Those sellers pass through and sometimes trade in the outlying counties, however, Brummund said.

“To think an arrest in Alpena doesn’t, down the road, affect Montmorency County is silly, quite frankly,” Montmorency County Sheriff Chad Brown told the board via speakerphone. “They’re all connected.”

HUNT has helped his county with search and rescue efforts, a jail escape, tracking sexual offenders, and more, Brown said.

Recently, a drug-related tip to the Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Office netted three arrests and the seizure of drugs within two hours because of prompt assistance from HUNT members, Presque Isle County Sheriff Joe Brewbaker said.

Detective 1st Lt. Kip Belcher of the Michigan State Police-7th District, who oversees multiple narcotics task forces in the state, lauded HUNT for its quick response to the counties it covers.

HUNT, “by leaps and bounds,” provides more agency assists, more quickly than any other task force, Belcher said.

“When they get the phone call, they go,” Belcher said. “I don’t know how you capture that.”

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