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February 12, 2017 10:22 PM

Meth & Guns: 'I've Never Been More Concerned'

The 'war on drugs' is a phrase coined back in the early 1970's. Unfortunately, that battle continues today and it's become an even a bigger and more violent fight.  

Meth, opiods and heroin; three drugs which law enforcement officials say have seen a dramatic increase in use over the last few years.  

Governor Dennis Daugaard even went so far as to call it an "epidemic" in South Dakota.   

Yet Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead says the pictures of drug busts like these, which are provided to the media, don't tell the whole story. 

"I've never been more concerned for the safety of my deputies and the officers on the drug task force than I am today," Milstead said. 

He's referring to a growing number of people involved in the drug scene who are carrying guns.  In all of his years in law enforcement, Milstead has never seen it this bad.

"Not only just the dealers, but the users are carrying firearms," Milstead said. 

The proof is powerful. 

The evidence room in the law enforcement center shows exactly how big of a problem guns are in our community. 

"These are all of our older guns," Crime Lab Manager, Brad Johnson said. 

Johnson says for years, law enforcement stored guns that were confiscated in violent crimes or drug busts like this, out in the open.  

In recent years however, the number of guns taken into evidence has shot up, so Johnson had to make some adjustments to the evidence room. 

"So we started storing them in boxes, we found we could store a lot more in boxes on shelves than just open, generally like this," Johnson said. 

Every box you see on these shelves contains a gun.  Johnson estimates there are more than two thousand here.  Some are small, some are large, but all are potentially deadly. 

"You're hearing more and more reporting, more and more of shots fired in a neighborhood, shell casings found at the scene, no one cooperating. There's a reason they're not cooperating, they were there to buy drugs and they got ripped."

"Ripped" is a term law enforcement uses to describe a drug deal gone bad, where a dealer robs a potential buyer of his or her money.

"Greed is a big part of this and I think fuels a lot of people going after other people for money. They know money is there and they are good targets because they're likely not going to cooperate with police," Sgt. Aarron Nyberg said. 

Sgt Aaron Nyberg didn't want us to show his face because he works undercover for the Drug Task Force.  

"Some of the things that really concern you when you go into the different homes is how many kids you come across," Nyberg said. 

Kids who are innocent, but find themselves in a dangerous place, because their parents are either buying or selling drugs. 

"I'm talking about people who are high on meth, suffering from some of the affects of paranoia, delusional behaviors and violent behaviors and aggressive actions. These are the people our drug detectives and police officers are seeing and encountering on a daily basis and they're carrying guns," Milstead said. 

Milstead says law enforcement can only do so much to win the war on drugs.  He says there needs to be more of an emphasis on prevention and treatment, because there is no such thing as a low-risk drug offender. 

"If we keep that attitude up we are going to be inundated with what's called low-risk drug offenders who are causing and wreaking havoc in our community," Milstead said. 

Milstead says area residents can be very helpful in the battle against illegal drug activity. It's often hard to be certain that what you are seeing involves drugs, but some patterns may indicate drug activity.  Click here for a list of those patterns. 

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