Police press conference on Northfield’s heroin problem

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Northfield Police Chief Gary Smith and Sergeant Roger Schroeder (left photo) held a press conference this afternoon at the Community Resource Bank in Northfield, announcing the “Not in my backyard” campaign to combat the heroin problem in the Northfield area. Twin Cities media were there. Here are some links to the press coverage:

Here’s the 38 minute audio of the press conference (MP3 also available).

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Update 07/04 6:15 am: the Strib story is on the top of the front page today. Here’s a screenshot:

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Text of story:

Crime follows heroin to Northfield

What police say began as a handful of Northfield High School students experimenting with heroin 18 months ago has mushroomed into an epidemic in the upscale college community, with more than 150 kids hooked on the drug.

Northfield Police Chief Gary Smith, who took the unusual step of publicizing the problem by calling a news conference Tuesday, said that as many as 250 current and former Northfield High School students could be involved, with some feeding heroin habits of as much as $800 a day.

The growing heroin problem, which is also being investigated by the Metro Gang Strike Force and a regional drug task force, has increased consternation and crime in one of Minnesota’s safest, most educated and affluent cities.

Smith said it was this spike in crime – including a doubling in burglaries and tripling in thefts from autos from 2005 to 2006 – that first caught the attention of police and led investigators to the heroin problem.

“This is affecting our ability to deal with other community concerns,” Smith said Tuesday afternoon. “We find ourselves more often reacting to crimes than preventing them.”

Authorities have indicted three people for heroin possession and police have executed three search warrants in which they have recovered 4 grams of heroin, stolen guns and stolen merchandise such as iPods, Sgt. Roger Schroeder said.

An informal ring

Investigators discovered an informal heroin ring operating at Northfield High School, which has about 1,300 students.

Police said that the addicts are operating in cliques of fewer than 10. They pool their money from jobs or thefts and then take turns driving to Minneapolis to buy heroin, Smith said.

Investigators said Northfield kids are also spreading crime into neighboring cities.

Packs of kids are wandering through hospitals in Rochester and other communities stealing narcotics or asking patients for drugs such as oxycodone or OxyContin, which many addicts are using as a substitute for heroin.

Also, police said, Northfield youth are wandering through college dorms and classrooms at Carleton and St. Olaf and taking anything that isn’t nailed down, especially electronic equipment.

Police said the Northfield addicts are mainly affluent, mobile kids who are turning their heroin use into something of a status symbol.

As a result, Smith said, police are concerned the kids will export the problem to friends and relatives outside Northfield by introducing them to heroin.

Also, many of the users are “alpha” students seen as leaders by peers. Among them are athletes and students at the top of their classes academically, including one student who recently graduated with a 4.0 grade point average.

“We’re already starting to see use in kids as young as middle school and the first years of high school,” Smith said.

Going public

Investigators said they know the identity of the kids using heroin and have a good idea of where and how they are getting the drug, as well as where the stolen merchandise is going.

Police said they decided to go public in hopes of getting these dealers and fences to stop doing business with Northfield’s addicts.

“Those providing heroin to our community and receiving stolen items,” he said, “we know who a lot of you are … I would suggest that you consider your Northfield users burned and not do business with them anymore.”

Smith said investigators also decided to go public so residents in the college community can take measures to protect themselves, such as locking their doors and their vehicles.

“We’ve been fortunate that no one has been hurt as yet,” Smith said. “We want to interdict this now.”

Whispered warnings

Although the heroin problem was acknowledged publicly for the first time Tuesday, residents and police said that many people have had their suspicions for months that something was happening at Northfield High School.

A paper published last month by Carol Falkowski, director of the Butler Center for Research at Hazelden, reported the existence of a “heroin network” at Northfield High.

Also, community blogs in Northfield have registered dozens of postings by students, teachers, parents and others in the community talking about the growing heroin problem.

“If you ask some kids, they’ll tell you that the perception is that drug usage is a bigger issue in Northfield than in other communities,” one teacher wrote on the locallygrownnorthfield.org site. “It’s incredibly discouraging to be a teacher and hear of your students using heroin … and not a whole lot of public discussion about it.

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