Island cop on state"s meth task force

By Ruth Longoria' email='

A Mercer Island police officer has been appointed to the newly formed task force "Operation: Allied Against Meth." As the task force opened its first meeting last Wednesday morning at the state Capitol in Olympia, 37-year-old Chris DeChant, a 7-year veteran of the Mercer Island Police Department, sat opposite Attorney General Rob McKenna, who appointed the task force, in a room-filled with experts in the fields of law enforcement, business, real estate and community service. There were county sheriffs, prosecutors, state senators and representatives, as well as business leaders and drug treatment professionals. All in all, it was a pretty imposing group.

"I'm really honored to be here," DeChant said during a break in the three-hour session.

DeChant has a significant history in law enforcement. In addition to his work as an officer on Mercer Island, he was a member of the Eastside Narcotics Task Force for more than three years. DeChant admits a fascination with the methamphetamine culture. "It's evil, but it's fascinating," he said.

King County Sheriff Sue Rahr, who also is a member of the task force, shares DeChant's interest in the drug that, she said, has become the number one crime problem in the county.

The problem of methamphetamine use ranks equally high across the nation, according to a survey of 500 law enforcement agencies in 45 states. The National Association of Counties, who conducted the survey, reported that 58 percent of the agencies said meth is their biggest drug problem, compared with only 19 percent for cocaine, 17 percent for marijuana and three percent for heroin.

Although the number of drug labs reported in the state has fallen, the state tallied 1,300 drug labs last year and, officials said, methamphetamine drug use is up. That implies that many meth users are getting their drugs from out of the country and/or manufacturing the drug from vehicles and mobile meth labs, McKenna said.

Rahr said she is pleased to work with DeChant and other members of the task force because of the diverse range of participants to combat a crime that reaches many levels of the community. "This is an excellent collection of people," she said. "We need this multi-disciplined approach to fight meth." The task force is not a blue ribbon commission or a fact-finding mission, leaders of the group stressed to the participants. Instead, it's aimed at drafting legislation to help state, county and city law enforcement fight drug trafficking and the problems associated with methamphetamine manufacture, sale and use.

After the initial session, members of the task force were divided into three groups, which will meet twice as committees between now and the next organized meeting.

DeChant will serve on the Criminal Committee, which will deal with criminal laws, clandestine manufacturing labs, and establishing penalties for those convicted of meth use, manufacture and trafficking. The task force will meet again Sept. 29 in Olympia to discuss and evaluate revised agendas from each committee. The revisions will be adopted and a draft legislation will assembled.

Despite his humble approach to being a part of the task force team, as a law enforcement officer, DeChant brings to his committee a working knowledge of crime and punishment. He understands how drugs, such as methamphetamine, can be the force behind a myriad criminal activities, such as property and identity theft. That's how methamphetamine makes its mark here on the Island. Mercer Island detectives recently connected stolen Island mail with an active crank ring in White Center and another in North Seattle, DeChant said. "Crank" is the common street name for methamphetamine. "Most cranksters make their money big-time via identity theft. These crankster gangsters -- meth addicts -- are part of active rings where they have a loose structure. One guy may be good at stealing mail, another sells identities, while another guy cooks (the methamphetamine)," DeChant said. "We have a huge impact here with identity theft and stolen mail."

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