Law enforcement, public schools working to prevent drug related crime in Kent and Portage County

By Kathryn Monsewicz

Drug possession charges are common on Kent State University grounds as well as Kent proper, but public schools are addressing students about drug abuse violations and related crimes at an early age.

Kent City

It’s hard to say how many cases Kent Police Department has per year related to drug possession because of a detailed reporting system that could label the charges under an array of different offenses, Lt. Mike Lewis said.

According to the Portage County Drug Task Force, Kent is “one of the busier parts of the county.”

But, Lewis said, that depends on what drug is hitting the county hardest at that particular time.

The prevalence of possession charges in the city does have something to do with it being a college town with a large population and so many college students. It is not a surprise, Lewis said, that the most common drug is marijuana. Today’s strain of marijuana, compared to 30 years ago, is more potent and can be laced with harmful chemicals like fentanyl and carfentanil.

Kent Police Lieutenant Mike Lewis. Photo courtesy of Mike Lewis.

“People don’t take it very seriously. They don’t necessarily see the danger of it, although there are dangers,” Lewis said. “These are illegal drugs and they are not regulated. You never know what you are getting. That’s a risk that you always take, anytime you are ingesting these drugs or injecting them, smoking them. You have no idea what is in there or what types of effect they can have on you.”

City police also see cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil, mushrooms, MDMA and ecstasy.

Though they have more cases of possession, Kent sees cases of drug trafficking in the city.

“All the drugs have to come from somewhere,” Lewis said. City police seize drugs in small, personal-use amounts.

“That’s not the way that they are coming into the city. They come from dealers or distributors and then trickle down to the small amounts that we usually encounter, either on somebody’s person or in their vehicle in a traffic stop,” Lewis said.

Drug trafficking cases are referred to the Portage County Drug Task Force. Kent police have their own detective serving on the task force, enabling the city and county to more easily share information.

Lewis describes the difference between drug possession and trafficking in the audio clip above.

                                      

The above chart depicts the amount of drugs by weight seized by the Portage County Drug Task Force  – and NOT by Kent police- so far in 2018. According to the drug task force, cocaine is significantly on the rise and meth is making a comeback, while there seems to be less heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil. Information provided by the Portage County Drug Task Force.

Kent State University

Some Kent State University students are receiving their illegal drugs through trafficking, as well.

It’s hard to know where the students are getting their drugs, Officer Tricia Knoles with the Kent University Police Department said. They may get them from dealers in the city, a supplier on campus, or even the dark web.

Lewis said students could be getting them from dealers in the city, but it is likely dealers from outside cities such as Brimfield and Akron are involved. City police will charge students in possession of illegal substances in the city. These charges can still affect them through the university, though not criminally. A charged student would be sent to the Office of Student Conduct and face further discipline.

Knoles maps out how the Ohio Interstate System contributes to the influx of drugs in the state and how citizens, including students, could be more vulnerable because of it in the audio clip above.

Kent State University Police community resource officer Tricia Knoles. Photo courtesy of Tricia Knoles.

 

On campus, students are being caught with primarily marijuana, but are also found with wax, THC liquid, and prescription medication that does not belong to them. Whether there is heroin or cocaine on campus is questionable, Knoles said, because it is a drug more easily hidden. You can’t smell them as easily as marijuana.

“Typically, more than half (of arrests) are in residence halls because you can obviously smell it,” Knoles said. A lot of students use a “blow tube” which is a toilet paper roll stuffed with dryer sheets.

“It just ends up smelling like pot and dryer sheets. Those are easier to catch,” Knoles said.

 

In residence halls, security aides are authorized to do a four-point corner search of a dorm room if they suspect drug use. The police are not authorized to do so without permission from the student. Some cases are instead referred to the Office of Student Conduct.

On campus, it is common for students using drugs to be picked up in wooded areas where officers are on foot patrol. The weather plays a part, Knoles said. Better weather means more foot patrol, but, when it is raining, most people don’t use drugs outdoors.

“One of the things that is common among this age group is using somebody else’s prescription drugs,” Knoles said. “If someone has prescription drugs that they no longer need or use, we do have the drug box in the front that people can come and drop it off, so we can dispose of it properly.”

The drop off box, located at the Stockdale Safety Building, is monitored 24/7 with cameras.

There are drug prevention programs offered on campus for students as well as non-students. Addiction and recovery counselors are available at Psychological Services and there is programming for students who feel they may be addicted or have a friend that may be. Drug Workshops are provided through the Health Promotions Office and outside referrals are available for more intensive substance use treatment.

Portage County Public Schools

The Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network issued a Drug Trend Report from June 2017 – January 2018 detailing the Akron-Canton region of Ohio (which included Portage County) that states, “Treatment providers noted that the age of first use of marijuana was as young as nine or 10 years.”

Portage County public schools are working to combat drug abuse violations and related crimes from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“It seems startling and kind of scary that they have to start (the programs) that young but I can certainly see a need for it, too. Kids do what they see. If they have parents or older siblings who are abusing drugs, then they are likely to abuse drugs themselves,” Lewis said.

The Portage County Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) has been working to decrease substance abuse in Portage County through drug prevention programming in public schools. They have introduced these programs into school curricula for all school districts in Portage County.

The above school districts have Too Good for Drugs programming in the listed grades. Kent City Schools does not, however they do have Project Alert in middle school. Information provided by Karyn Kravetz.

Too Good for Drugs and Project Alert are two drug prevention programs recommended by the state of Ohio that are being taught in Portage County schools. Townhall II, a drug addiction treatment center in Kent, helps run these programs through funding from the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County. This money comes from local levy dollars. Staff are trained as prevention specialists who go to the schools and teach the interactive programs.

Karyn Kravetz is the Director of Community Relations for the board and is a partner in CHIP helping to spread the Too Good for Drugs programming throughout the local school system. The program focuses on kindergarten through fifth grade and later reaches out to high school levels.

Karyn Kravetz, Director of Community Relations at the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County. Photo courtesy of Karyn Kravetz.

“Every year you need to hear things again at an age-appropriate level for you to keep learning. The same with drugs and alcohol and prevention. The more they hear the message at different stages in their lives, the better,” Kravetz said.

 

 

Whether the program is effective or not is measured by pre- and post-tests, but this in itself is hard to determine.

“Prevention is so hard to really measure,” Kravetz said. “It’s hard to say if what somebody does learn when they are a kid can prove that that is how they stayed away from drugs later in life.”

In the audio clip above, Kravetz discusses the advantages of the Too Good for Drugs program and what students who take it are learning.

There are certainly drugs in Kent City Schools, especially marijuana, Lewis said.

Kent police have different ways to monitor drug activity on school grounds. They do have a school resource officer that offers education on drug prevention to students.

“There are times when we will go up to the high school with teams of drug-sniffing dogs, go through the schools sniffing the lockers, then also through the parking lots sniffing through the vehicles,” Lewis said.

Kent City Schools do not have the Too Good for Drugs programming yet. Instead, their middle school uses another evidence-based programming named Project Alert.

According to Townhall II’s website, the program is used to “motivate pre-adolescents against drug use, teach pre-adolescents the skills and strategies needed to resist pro-drug pressures, and establish non drug-using norms.”

Students are never too young to learn about drug prevention, Kravetz said. “They can’t hear the message enough.”

According to the CHIP progress report, more than 3,819 Portage County children have been served by the Too Good for Drugs and/or Project Alert programming.