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BRDTF cracking down on drug, violent crime since 2005

WORTHINGTON — As its name implies, the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force highly specializes in drug trafficking and drug-related crimes.

The specialized force active in communities from a three-county region does much more, although it may not be widely known due to the covert-natured cases it works.

According to BRDTF Commander Nate Grimmius, the task force present across Nobles, Pipestone and Murray counties sheriff’s offices and those counties’ municipal police departments (Worthington, Adrian, Fulda, Slayton) dedicate time, effort and resources not only to drug control, but also violent crime enforcement. More complex crimes that fall within the Minnesota first- or second-degree assault statutes would likely get attention from the force, as would sex or human trafficking and gang-related activity.

“A lot more of what we do is not public information,” Grimmius said.  

That’s so the release of information does not jeopardize the progress made on cases, which the force of six do not treat like a race.

“These cases can take years,” Grimmius said. “We’ve had cases that are three to five years old. We put the time into working these cases because we want successful prosecution. To do things quickly doesn’t always mean you’re going to get success in the courtroom.”

Through a joint powers agreement that formed in 2005, participating agencies have one full-time employee dedicated to the force and the Worthington Police Department has three, including Grimmius’ commander position.

Having personnel across the region fully dedicated to the task force is helpful, explained Grimmius, in that the agencies constantly share information and work cases together.

“Society is much more mobile than it has been in the past,” Grimmius said. “It’s likely a lot of these areas are dealing with the same people, anyway. We collaborate together to be more efficient rather than each of us individually working a portion.”

Not only does the BRDTF work regionally, but also nationally.

Grimmius said hardly a day goes by that a BRDTF member is not in contact with drug task forces or law enforcement agencies from another state to share information on individuals known by multiple agencies.

Federally, the local task force has also assisted the Drug Enforcement Administration; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and United States Department of Homeland Security.  

In the immediate area, however, a sheriff’s deputy or officer is likely to respond to an initial call for service. If it’s something that falls within the task force’s radar, they’re called out to assist.

“Some of the more complex stuff, it would be difficult for one deputy or one officer to handle,” Grimmius said. “We’ve got six guys, and you can get quite a bit of work done with six guys.”

But, as Grimmius noted, there’s plenty of work out there to justify another position if the force ever finds itself with appropriate funds.  

“(It’s) sad to say, but it’s to the point that we’re able to pick and choose — we have to prioritize our casework,” he said. “We have to make the determination — what kind of outcome is it going to be for us? We’re looking for what’s going to make the biggest difference for our area.”

Grimmius said he’d like to have another task force member, but that likely won’t happen unless the grant funding the BRDTF receives from the Office of Justice Programs increases. A competitive grant application, the dollars from one of the task force’s major funding sources has not increased in the last 10 years, Grimmius said.

“So we’re operating on the same dollars (as 10 years ago), but I can tell you right now — insurance costs, equipment fees, yearly fees are going up,” he said. “That’s just the way the world works.”

Because the grant is not sufficient enough to fund the task force entirely, each member county contributes annually to the BRDTF on a per-capita basis with approval by the BRDTF board, Grimmius said. The current amount is $3.70 per capita, and are used for BRDTF operations such as training and equipment.

Each member agency also contributes in-kind funding to the task force, which usually includes equipment, Grimmius said. The physical positions, he added, are initially part of each entity’s independent budget.

“From the grant funds and per capita we do reimburse wage-wise back to the agencies,” he said. “We’ll get X amount of dollars for contributing a person full-time to the task force.”

With dollars coming from a variety of sources, Grimmius said there are a lot of checks and balances to ensure task forces are appropriately using the money.

Grimmius said every year the BRDTF undergoes a desk review, which is done by the statewide coordinator. The task force’s casework and paperwork is examined, and determinations of how secure the agency is keeping evidence and managing its informants are also made.

Grimmius said the task force’s last review in 2017 produced no findings or recommendations.

The effectiveness and quality of their work can be measured not only by successful prosecutions, but also in hardware it has earned.

A couple years ago, the BRDTF earned the Outstanding Cooperative Effort Award — Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program for its cooperative work with other South Dakota, Iowa and federal agencies that led to successfully dismantling a drug trafficking organization.

BRDTF has also earned the Narcotics Task Force of the Year in 2014 and the Outstanding Achievement Award in 2009, both from the Minnesota State Association of Narcotics Investigators.

There’s hardly a dull moment as a BRDTF member, and the camaraderie between law enforcement agencies across the country is part of what makes each day a mystery.

“That’s what makes this job fun,” Grimmius said. “You never know who’s going to be calling at any time — it could be from anywhere in the country. We could be working a case later today with another state in the country, trying to help each other dismantle these organizations.”

The BRDTF is on Facebook — where Grimmius said it tries and keep up to date with cases it works when information becomes public. Informative articles and videos, particularly related to drugs and drug trends, are also shared here.

The BRDTF also has a mobile app, which allows members of the public to report information 100 percent anonymously with their smartphone. The app can be downloaded for free from the app store.

Alyssa Sobotka

Alyssa joined The Globe in July 2017 and covers education and crime beats. The Nebraska native earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In her own sarcastic tone, her blog, Aimlessly Navigating, recounts the reality, pitfalls and triumphs of a young 20-something navigating to maturity. Follow her on Twitter: @alyssasobotka

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