Drug task force to merge with Jasper County

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Setup will add full-time narcotics officer, resources

The Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force in Barry in Lawrence counties is hopeful it will be merging with Jasper county this month.

"McDonald and Barry [counties are] merging with Jasper County," said Mick Epperly, Barry County Sheriff. "The department of public safety has been wanting the smaller drug task forces to join as one. We'll still have our people here, but it will be more of a multi-task force. We've always had one and it has been effective."

Epperly said the main reason for the merge was funding, because the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force gives more funding to larger task forces.

"The task force, like anything, had its ups and downs but the funding kept getting shorter and shorter because we weren't merging in with other counties," he said. "So we think this will be helpful for us. I'm fighting tooth and nail to keep a drug task force in this area.

"We don't have too many narcotics officers, and they're great for helping us take drugs off the street. So we're going to try to keep that alive."

Epperly said the merge will add benefits and resources.

"By merging, they will have about eight narcotic officers, so if my one or two officers here need help, they can pull some to help them on a search warrant," Epperly said. "It will work out when we need manpower and don't have to pull an officer off the road. We're keeping our fingers crossed on it but it looks positive."

Epperly said the merger has not been officially finalized but is hopeful it will go through, and he will know by the end of June."

Previously, Barry County had three narcotics officers, but with Officer John Luckey leaving last month, the department was down to two.

"The board hired Morgan Struble, and he has a canine, so that would be a good tool for us, too," Epperly said.

Struble is the Exeter police chief, and does occasional contracting for Seligman on an as-needed basis.

"The drug force hired him prior to the merge with Jasper county," he said.

Struble, who will begin working for the task force full-time next week, said there will be a time of transitioning, but his ideal plan would be to maintain administrative duties for Exeter on a part-time basis and utilize patrol officers for ordinances and other related duties.

"It will be a lot of transitioning," he said. "The trick is making it go smoothly. I will have a new job I'm trying to learn but also transitioning into new policies and procedures because the task force is merging."

Struble said Barry and McDonald counties have their own board, and so does Jasper, so some change and transition is to be anticipated when both boards meet in Joplin this month to discuss the merger. According to Struble, there were rumors of McDonald county pulling out, which would have prevented the merger but nothing came of it.

"We sat down with the commissioners of McDonald county to talk about it," he said.

Struble is confident is his ability to work for the drug task force.

"Drugs are the thing I go after," he said. "Even when I'm working for Exeter, drugs are what I use the dog for and target the most. Every officer has their own thing or niche and mine is finding drugs. When I work, I work."

Struble has been working as an officer for six years and with drug dogs for 10 years. His dog, a black lab named Bailey, has been working with Struble for six months.

Epperly said it would be ideal to have at least four narcotics officers on the task force.

"We're hoping the department of public safety will put more money into our task force to get more officers because with the merger, we'll be covering a bigger area," he said. "There's that much work for a narcotics officer. A lot of times, the narcotics go hand-in-hand with burglaries and stealing."

Each county has its own name for their task force, and if the merger goes through, Epperly said the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force will be required to come up with a new name.

"We meet in Joplin on June 8 to go over policies and procedures and will come up with a new name at that time," he said.

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