Head of county’s drug unit tells village officials addiction is driving force behind most local crime
The statistics detailing the spread of heroin-driven crime in Ozaukee County are sobering, but it is the pain caused to families that most affects Sheriff’s Department Lt. Rod Galbraith, who heads up the county’s Anti-Drug Task Force.
Galbraith gave a presentation on the local drug battle last week to the Village of Saukville’s Public Safety Committee.
“The heroin and drug problem we have seen explode into our once quiet rural county is the single-most significant problem I can think of in my 34 years in law enforcement,” he told the committee.
Galbraith has headed up the county drug unit since 2009. He supervised the drug team from 1992 to 1998, too, but said the assignment is much more challenging today.
Galbraith estimated as much as 80% of all property crimes committed in the county are linked to drug addiction, with heroin the biggest culprit.
The most stunning proof of how vicious the heroin problem has grown, Galbraith said, are the eight overdose deaths the county has seen since 2010.
“In most cases, these are good kids from good families in our community. The clue is that healthy 26-year-olds don’t die for no reason,” he said.
Galbraith’s slide show included more than a dozen news clippings documenting cases of first-degree reckless homicides caused by overdoses, as well as recent crime sprees driven by the need for money to buy drugs.
“Drug addiction is too often seen as a city problem, but the business plan for heroin sale is to reach out to affluent young people. That’s who lives here. They become a steady source of income for dealers,” Galbraith said.
Access to ready cash is essential to heroin users, because their habit can cost $300 to $900 a day, he said.
That “life or death need” changes users, Galbraith said.
“Once a young person starts using heroin, they go through all of their savings and often lose their job,” he said.
“That’s when they start stealing from their families, clearing out the medicine cabinet, using their parent’s credit cards to make unauthorized purchases and selling their jewelry. Next, they turn to crime, stealing from cars, neighbor’s homes and stores.”
The most heartbreaking aspect of his job, Galbraith said, is dealing with families who watch a loved one in a death spiral started by addiction.
“You can see they are torn by the prospect of turning their child in to police and watching be sent off to prison, or allowing them to continue to live with their addiction and the very real possibility they will die from an overdose or cause someone else’s death,” he said.
Galbraith said every community in the county has been touched by heroin-driven crimes. As an example, he pointed to a string of a dozen burglaries last July in Belgium and the Town of Port Washington caused by two self-described addicts.
Galbraith said parking lots of fast-food restaurants, including in Saukville, are often used as the site of drug deals because the steady stream of traffic makes their vehicles less noticeable.
Galbraith said he didn’t want his talk to be seen as a pitch for financial support from the village.
“Continued collaboration with the municipal departments is important, but this is a problem that cannot be solved by law enforcement alone,” he said.
“I am reaching out to decision makers, but more importantly to parents, to make them see how we need to stress that turning to this type of drug use must never be seen as an option by our young people.”
He noted how parents often discount the seriousness of teenagers turning to alcohol and marijuana as rites of passage, but said statistics show those youngsters are much more likely to turn to harder drugs, including heroin.
Only the Mequon Police Department has an officer assigned to the county drug unit, but Saukville Police Chief Jeff Goetz said his department supports the county effort.
He said his department has seen a sharp increase in crimes committed by drug addicts in the past five years.
“Addiction, especially an opioid addiction, will cause people to do things they would never have considered doing,” Goetz said.
“If I did not have staffing and budgetary constraints, every officer I hire would spend their first year or two on the job assigned to the drug unit. The people addicted to the opiates become desperate and will do anything to get the money they need to buy their drugs.”