Michigan State Police troopers spent Friday night pulling vehicles over in Menominee as part of a crackdown on running illegal drugs, mainly heroin, into the community. EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
Michigan State Police troopers spent Friday night pulling vehicles over in Menominee as part of a crackdown on running illegal drugs, mainly heroin, into the community. EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
MENOMINEE - Anyone driving through Menominee after 5 p.m. Friday no doubt saw one or two or five Michigan State Police patrol cars. Troopers were out enforce to help curb the flow of illegal drugs through town.

"They were busy. Busy with narcotics arrests and weapons offenses," said 1st Lt. Gregg Cunningham of the Michigan State Police.

Troopers didn't stake out just one part of town, they were all over. Just about anywhere there was traffic, you could find Troopers.

In 2012, the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team (UPSET) made 16 arrests for heroin, all in Menominee. Last year there were six reported fatal overdoses. This year's figures were not immediately available, but according to Cunningham, the situation is alarming.

"The narcotics overdose deaths we've had is just becoming an epidemic in the area," he said. "We're seeing not just the heroin issues but we're seeing a lot more of the meth."

While Cunningham said the supply of methamphetamines is spreading, Menominee Police Chief Brett Botbyl noted that it's keeping its distance from town, staying mostly in the western U.P.

As for heroin and cocaine, police officials have closely studied the routes those illegal drugs have taken to get to the Marinette/Menominee area. Cities like Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit top the list of supply centers. And it's virtually always driven up, which is why authorities are so highly focused on vehicle traffic.

One valuable tool available to law enforcement is the ability to stop vehicles for probable cause. It could be a burned out headlight, failure to signal a turn, speeding or any number of other violations.

Friday night a motorist, who wishes to go by the name of "John," learned about the procedure first hand.

"My license plate light was busted out and they decided it was good enough to pull me over," he said. "The officers were nice. Some can be mean or rude, whatever... but they have a lot to deal with on their jobs so I understand that."

Officers asked John if he had any sharp objects or weapons in his pocket and he pulled out a jack-knife. The officer confiscated it and placed it on the hood of the squad car. John and a female passenger were questioned and frisked. The two were also asked whether there was anything illegal in the van. A short time later a drug sniffing dog was brought in and went through the vehicle front to back.

Officers pulled out a couple objects and tested one. An audible sound was made and a light came on. Since the incident was still in progress and no formal charges had yet been filed, it is unknown what those substances were or if they were even illegal. However, the female passenger was, at least for a short while, placed in handcuffs.

When asked if there were any hard feelings about the stop, John replied, "No, none at all."

As for the lesson he learned from the experience, he said, "Make sure all my lights work before I leave the driveway, for sure. Definitely."

Similar stops were taking place all around town Friday night and although officials do not have the numbers tallied yet, Cunningham said they're confident their efforts are having an impact and that residents are taking notice.

"It's a community issue, it's not just a state police issue," he said. "We're taking very seriously the flow of illegal narcotics into the area and the abuse of heroin specifically. The Troopers are doing everything they can to identify and detect the narcotics flow and are trying to stop that."

Without the cooperation of more than a dozen agencies working together, efforts to rid the area of illegal drugs would be impossible. The reach of cooperation goes beyond just Menominee and the state of Michigan. The Marinette police and sheriff's departments, along with the Wisconsin Highway Patrol, are all integral pieces of the matrix.

Another tool used by law enforcement is the telephone. A tip line has been established for citizens to call and report suspicious activity. Callers can remain anonymous. Cunningham is also a proponent of using all forms of media including newspaper, radio and even the Internet.

"Those have been successful," he said. "We've received quite a bit of information on there. Social media has been very positive for the most part."

Staying on budget with a growing drug problem is not an easy challenge for local police officials. Botbyl said he has a very good working relationship with UPSET and the State Police and said their contributions are invaluable.

"Not only does it help us with our mission ridding our community of drugs, just the mere presence and having more law enforcement presence helps." he said. "We're trying to get rid of the drugs in our community and obviously the more police presence, the better off we'll be."