Bremerton called 'epicenter' for meth

Washington state is second only to California in the manufacture of the illegal drug methamphetamine — better known as “meth.”

A lot of the meth produced in Washington is sold in state. In fact, a lot is sold in Kitsap County — with Bremerton the epicenter.

This according to Shawn Clapp, undercover police officer assigned to the joint Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office/Bremerton Police Department “Drug Interdiction Task Force.”

When comparing counties in the two states, Washington’s Pierce County wins the dubious award for being the highest producer, behind Orange and Los Angeles counties in California, he said.

He added that meth production and use is a mostly a West Coast phenomenon. Clapp isn’t sure why — though he mentioned by far the biggest meth factories are in Mexico.

“Our crime rate is driven by methamphetamine,” he said.

Clapp said car “prowls” (break-ins) to steal stereos or whatever’s in sight; car thefts; burglaries in general ... are generally driven by the need for money for drugs, with the drug of choice of the new millennium being meth — a powdered stimulant that induces feelings of energy, euphoria and empowerment.

Practically everyone’s been affected, either as a victim of theft or as a friend or relative of a victim. Same for the meth users. Practically everyone’s affected, either as a user or friend, relative or neighbor of a user or producer, said law enforcement officials at a meeting called by Dist. 4 City Council member Ed Rollman, whose district — downtown — has been hit hard by meth abuse and crime.

The meeting, held Tuesday evening 7-9 p.m. downstairs in the Washington Mutual Bank building, included three members of the drug task force, BPD Chief Rob Forbes, Mayor Cary Bozeman, Rollman, other Council members, and interested citizens. About 50 people attended.

Bremerton Police Detective Sgt. Larry Hill of the Task Force said 300 pounds of meth a month are either being produced or shipped into Kitsap. Clapp had no happy ending to the epidemic.

“We don’t see it ending until people get tired of this thing,” he said.

But meth users’ and makers’ behavior give them away, added Clapp, and this is how ordinary citizens can help police stem the tidal wave. He listed symptoms displayed by meth users, dealers or producers:

l Users are very busy or “nervous.” Up for hours during the night — or awake for days.

l Users go on “binges” that can lead, first, to the hyperactivity described above, then to days of sleeping.

l Chronic users — as well as dealers and producers — are notoriously paranoid. If one of your neighbors installs flood lights and security cameras, and begins to collect or brandish guns, be wary.

l Vehicles coming and going from a residence at all hours of the night or day is reason for suspicion — especially if visitors don’t stay more than a minute or two. It could be the home of a dealer.

l Garbage bags piling up in the side or back yard are suspicious. The bags may contain meth-making chemicals or contaminated refuse. Meth lab producers are afraid to throw it out with the usual trash.

l Odd smells in the neighborhood. “Either your neighbor is refinishing furniture, or he’s making meth,” said Clapp.

Users damage and change the structure of their brains, perhaps permanently, said law enforcement officials. Meth is horrendously addictive — many users return to it after quitting for months or even years. It can lead to permanent, rapid heart rate. It affects the skin and can produce sores. The paranoia can lead to depression — which can end with suicide.

In 1998 there were only two or three meth labs in the county, said Clapp. Now, the number is inestimable. Labs can be in homes or made portable in vans or car trunks.

When asked by a member of the audience if “the revolving door of our justice system is to blame” for so many meth criminals being on the streets, Clapp declined to blame the courts.

“We just don’t have enough jail space,” he said.

An expansion to the Kitsap County Jail is under construction in Port Orchard which will greatly increase its current capacity.

For more information see the Feb. 23 issue of the Bremerton Patriot.

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