BRIDGEPORT — Law enforcement officials announced the formation of a new interdiction team that will patrol the roads of Harrison County in order to slow the flow of illegal drugs into the region.
United States Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld, II, Captain James Merrill of the West Virginia State Police, and Chief John Walker of the Bridgeport Police Department unveiled the Mountaineer Highway Interdiction Team on Thursday. They also provided details regarding successful patrols by the unit that have already taken place.
According to Ihlenfeld, the team — also known as MHIT South — will have the primary purpose of enhancing interdiction operations in order to slow the flow of illegal drugs into and through North Central West Virginia. The team’s major focus will be on highways and state routes but it will also concentrate on airports, bus terminals, hotels, motels, and parcel and package interdiction. The member agencies are the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the West Virginia State Police, the Bridgeport Police Department and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District.
Besides enhancing regional highway interdiction operations, MHIT South will have the added benefit of disrupting criminal organizations operating within West Virginia and of preserving citizen safety on West Virginia highways through effective traffic and commercial vehicle enforcement. It will also assist in investigating kidnappings, bank robberies, Amber Alerts and interstate theft; the detection and recovery of firearms; human trafficking and immigration violations; and fugitive apprehension.
MHIT South will support the Greater Harrison County Drug Task Force and other law enforcement agencies in the region and be available to act upon intelligence related to drug trafficking.
The unit is the second of its kind in West Virginia, with the first MHIT unit having been formed in the Northern Panhandle in 2011. MHIT North also consists of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. In 2013, the northern version of MHIT made 235 arrests, with 98 of those for felonies It seized over 1,600 dosage units of prescription drugs in 2013, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, and other painkillers. It also seized large amounts of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana along with firearms and other stolen property. Nearly $40,000 in U.S. currency was recovered and forfeited as proceeds of illegal drug trafficking.
MHIT South has been in operation since the end of 2013 and its officers have made over 50 arrests, with nearly half of those arrests on drug-related charges. The unit has recovered large amounts of diverted prescription medication as well as over half a kilogram of marijuana. In addition, quantities of heroin and methamphetamine have been seized along with two firearms and $6,960 in U.S. currency. One fugitive was apprehended, two search warrants were obtained, and eight informants were developed. The team is presently made up of West Virginia State Troopers and City of Bridgeport police officers, including a K-9 officer. The MHIT executive board hopes to add more officers in 2014.
“MHIT South will provide an aggressive response to drug trafficking and other forms of criminal activity that we’re faced with in North Central West Virginia,” said Ihlenfeld. “It has been highly successful in other parts of the Northern District, and I’m confident that it will make a big impact here and change the way we fight crime in Harrison County.”
“Law enforcement must work together to implement a comprehensive strategy in order to combat the epidemic of drug abuse in our region,” said Captain Merrill. “The concept of highway interdiction, when practiced on a consistent basis, greatly increases the pressure placed upon drug dealers and makes them uncomfortable to the point that they often elect to go elsewhere to do business.”
“This multi-agency drug interdiction unit is about pooling our resources and working together with a common goal. That goal is to ensure the safety and protection of our citizens and precious future generations from the drug epidemic,” said Chief Walker. “We will seek out, arrest, and prosecute those individuals who choose to benefit financially from the sale of illegal narcotics in our community.”
Regular updates on the work of MHIT will be made via press releases from its member agencies as well as via the official Twitter feed of the United States Attorney’s Office, @NDWVnews.