Port Angeles on federal list for Mexican drug trafficking OPNET: Report reflects entire area

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES -- Port Angeles is one of 24 Washington state cities listed in a federal report showing the presence of Mexican drug trafficking activity.

The National Drug Intelligence Center -- an arm of the U.S. Justice Department -- released its annual drug threat assessment on Wednesday, showing 229 other cities that have had instances of Mexican drug trafficking activity from 2006 to 2008.

Port Angeles Police Chief Terry Gallagher said it is well-known that Mexican drug traffickers operate on the North Olympic Peninsula.

"We have known for several years that some of the cocaine and methamphetamine that is distributed in the region comes from Mexican gangs," Gallagher said.

Gallagher said the reason that Port Angeles -- and no other city on the Peninsula -- was listed in the report is likely because the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team -- or OPNET -- is based in the town.

Reflects entire area

Ron Cameron, Clallam County chief criminal deputy and OPNET commander, said the designation reflects the entire area, not just the city of Port Angeles.

OPNET is a multi-jurisdictional organization that fights drug trafficking in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

"Historically, we've been dealing with it [Mexican drug trafficking] in this county since 1993," said Cameron said.

"In '07, we took out a significant group that was operating in Western Washington."

More than 2 pounds of crystal methamphetamine were seized in an August 2007 bust involving Mexican drug traffickers near Forks. Seven men were arrested in Clallam and Grays Harbor counties after a three-year probe.

Cameron said there have since been no similar investigations this year.

"These things have a tendency to go in waves and cycles," Cameron said.

Neither Gallagher nor Cameron could produce statistics showing recent Mexican drug trafficking activity.

"We don't keep records on that kind of activity," Cameron said.

"We don't file by race. Simple as that."

'Greatest threat'

According to the findings in the federal report: "Mexican DTOs [Drug Trafficking Organizations] are the greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States. They control most of the U.S. drug market and have established varied transportation routes, advanced communications capabilities and strong affiliations with gangs in the United States."

The issue has taken center stage recently with reports of violent clashes with drug dealers south of the border.

"I think that what you see in Mexico with the current violence was not as common five or 10 years ago," Gallagher said.

In a report that aired on KING-5 TV in Seattle on Wednesday, Port Angeles was shown on a map with seven other rural cities that the Justice Department identified. The other cities were Ferndale, Sultan, Milton, Centralia, Ephrata, Sunnyside and Goldendale.

"I maintain Channel 5's reference to Port Angeles is more in tune for the area rather than the city," said Cameron, after viewing the report.

The methamphetamine trade, which has long been considered to be the focus of Mexican drug traffickers, has leveled off on the Peninsula in recent years, Cameron said.

Meanwhile, he said the use of narcotic-based prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Oxycodone has spiked, and it doesn't appear to be related to Mexican drug traffickers.

Generally, Mexican drug traffickers shy away from marijuana sales here because of the higher-potency marijuana that comes from British Columbia and home-growing operations.

"People don't care for the Mexican marijuana so much," Cameron said.

In the early 1990s, the drug trafficking trade was "almost exclusively Mexican folks," Cameron said. That has changed.

On the whole, Cameron said that Mexican drug trafficking has dropped since the 1990s.

"But I cannot say they have gone away entirely," he said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at rob.ollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 26. 2009 10:27PM
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