BY FELICIA FONSECA
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A sheriff is enlisting the help of drug dealers in his fight to rid a rural eastern Arizona county of narcotics.
The Navajo County Sheriff's Office is circulating 3,000 postcards that encourage drug dealers to identify their rivals, their contact information and the times they sell.
"Is your drug dealing competition costing you money," the postcards read. "We offer you a FREE service to help eliminate your drug competition."
The somewhat comical tactic has been used by law enforcement agencies in Georgia, Kentucky and elsewhere in the country. Similar appeals to drug dealers and residents have been posted on Facebook, printed as advertisements in newspapers or plastered on billboards.
Residents of Navajo County are encouraged to report suspected drug dealers, too. Sheriff KC Clark said he's certain the postcards will generate tips, even among drug dealers.
"The drug business is a nasty business," he said. "There's no honor among those folks, zero."
The postcards will be given to narcotics officers and homeowner groups to hand out. The flip side has information on substance abuse programs.
Clark announced the initiative during Red Ribbon Week, a campaign to raise awareness about drug use. It was inspired by the 1985 slaying of former Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Enrique Camarena in Mexico.
In Navajo County, authorities seized more than $6.7 million worth of drugs last year, with marijuana and methamphetamine topping the list. Sheriff's deputies made more than 300 drug-related arrests.
Pat Melton, the sheriff in Franklin County, Kentucky, posted an image on Facebook in August that solicits information on drug dealers from rivals and others, borrowing the idea from the McIntosh County, Georgia, sheriff's office. Some of the 50 tips Melton has received so far have led to arrests, he said.
"We're hearing people are tired of the drugs and thugs," he said. "As a result, that interaction with our community is huge with what we're doing."
Clark said any tips on suspected drug dealers will be vetted thoroughly.
Police wouldn't be able to detain anyone or search someone's home using a name alone, said Andrew Clemency, a senior lecturer at Arizona State University's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and a former Maricopa County public defender. But they are free to dig through trash on the curb or stake out suspected drug dealers, he said.
"An uncorroborated anonymous tip is not going to rise to the level of probable cause or reasonable suspicion," he said. "It would be something police would build upon to try to advance their case."
Clemency said police have much better methods to identify drug dealers than postcards, but it could help involve residents in the fight against drugs.
"Engaging the community is probably the most valuable thing they can do up there because the community is much smaller," he said. "However, you're going to have people – at least if they're smart – who are reluctant to come forward because it's risky."
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