The Durango Police Department will commit one full-time officer to serve on the Southwest Drug Task Force, a multijurisdictional agency that investigates drug trafficking in the region.
It has been more than five years since the department assigned an officer to the task force. The position was pulled and absorbed back into the general department because
of personnel shortages, David Felice, chief of the Durango Police Department, said last week.
Felice, who was hired last year and has a background in drug task forces, said one of his top priorities was to rejoin the task force. Participation helps build relationships with other agencies in the region and improves intelligence sharing, he said.
"It just strengthens the partnerships that we already have," Felice said.
In addition to one officer from the police department, the task force is made up of five employees from the La Plata County Sheriff's Office, one investigator from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and one investigator with the Ignacio Police Department. Two agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency also work with the task force but have other duties related to their department.
Felice declined to identify the officer assigned to the task force, saying it would undermine the officer's ability to work undercover.
Durango police officers should feel more comfortable about working with the task force knowing that one of their own is a representative on the force, said Pat Downs, director of the task force.
"We enjoy a good relationship with the Durango Police Department right now, but having one of their officers on board - it just improves our relationship even more," he said.
The task force has somewhat of a controversial history.
In May 2005, reports surfaced that a task force investigator had a sexual relationship with a confidential informant.
Others have criticized the tactics used by drug task forces in general, including the use of confidential informants, operating undercover, and buying and selling drugs to catch people.
But the agency has made some big busts, including one in October involving 18 residents suspected of participating in a drug-trafficking ring that imported methamphetamine and cocaine into the United States and sold the drugs to consumers in Southwest Colorado.
In December 2007, the agency announced the arrest of 23 individuals in connection with a drug-trafficking ring that imported methamphetamine to Durango from Mexico.
Downs said the task force is effective at limiting the drug trade in Southwest Colorado, and part of that is because the public helps in providing information to the agency.
"We are successful because people give us information, and we appreciate that and want that to continue," he said.