City’s Meth Watch program attempts to educate retailers

The Hillsboro Police Department is hoping those small but brightly colored “Meth Watch” signs posted along the main arteries into the city will make it harder for makers of methamphetamine to do business in town.

The department joined the new program sponsored by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment about a month ago.

“The Meth Watch program is an awareness program put out by the state of Kansas to make citizens more aware of the chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine, and also to detect meth cooks by odor detection and things of that nature,” said Jessey Hiebert, assistant police chief, who spearheaded the effort.

The primary focus of the program is to educate employees of business that sell the otherwise harmless products that are used to produce meth, an extremely powerful stimulant that affects the central nervous system.

“The signs basically let people coming into the community know that we have these (educational) materials at our retailers,” Hiebert said. “They know what ingredients are used to make meth, so they are on the alert.”

The materials include flyers, posters, adhesive stickers and a training video that employers can use to educate their workers.

The stickers are attached to the pup tanks containing anhydrous ammonia, one of the ingredients required for meth manufacturing.

“The purpose of putting these on those tanks is to let the person who might come up to the tank know that the farmer has been educated in the fact that anhydrous ammonia is used to manufacture methamphetamine, and he’s going to be more aware of tampering with hoses and things of that nature,” Hiebert said.

But the program is also focused on retail businesses that sell household and shop products common to the average consumer (see sidebar) but are just as important to meth production.

“The stores (in Hillsboro) are very aware of what it takes to make meth because I’ve gone in and visited with them all and provided them with information-way before the Meth Watch came out,” Hiebert said.

Those efforts have paid. In 1997, employees at a hardware store called the police when they noticed a customer buying large quantities of one of the products Hiebert had identified.

“It ended up in a drug arrest,” Hiebert said.

He said meth manufacturers come to rural areas because of the relative ease of finding materials such as anhydrous ammonia and because rural areas have a smaller law-enforcement presence than urban areas do.

A crackdown by all levels of law enforcement personnel in Marion County in recent years has had a positive effect, according to Police Chief Dan Kinning, but it hasn’t eliminated the activity by any means.

“It’s here,” he said. “You’d have to have your head in the sand to say it wasn’t here.

“We’re not seeing it as prevalent as we did a couple of years ago, though. I don’t know if they’re better at hiding it or whether we’ve made a dent in it.”

Even though meth use persists, Hiebert believes it’s not being manufactured currently within Hillsboro’s city limits.

“I would say fairly comfortably that we don’t have active labs in town,” he said.

Hiebert said living next to someone who uses meth is unfortunate, but living next to someone who’s cooking it is dangerous because the process is explosive.

“Someday you may be trying to find another place to live,” he said.

Kinning and Hiebert said people who suspect meth may be being manufactured should be on the lookout for unusually large quantities of trash left over from the common products used to make the drug.

“What you’d want to be on the look out for is if a person sees a bunch of these cold medication blister packs,” he said. “To see one or two boxes isn’t a big deal, but if you see 50, it’s a big deal.”

Other tell-tale signs are coffee filters with pink or white powdery substance inside that’s balled up in a clump and lithium (not alkaline) batteries that have been peeled open.

As for chemical odors, Hiebert said the key is smelling them in places they aren’t likely to be.

“A person who does woodworking in his garage is going to have odors like paint thinner,” he said. “Chemical odors coming from places where chemical odors shouldn’t come from-that’s important.”

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