Drug task force in southern Utah seeks more resources in face of rising arrests

Posted at 10:14 PM, Feb 13, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-14 00:14:41-05

ST. GEORGE, Utah – Officers in St. George made more than 570 felony drug arrests in 2014, and it’s one reason the police chief is asking for more resources for the drug task force.

Thursday, Chief Marlon Stratton addressed the St. George City Council and told them how busy the drug task force is. He asked the council to consider budgeting more to keep up with the cases that take officers all over the county.

“They do a good job,” said Sgt. Sam Despain. “Without them here working these drug cases, the drug problem would be much, much worse here in Washington County.”

With 572 felony arrests and 247 misdemeanor ones in 2014, it appears the war on drugs is increasing in Washington County. Tuesday, task force officers made another arrest after a months-long investigation.

Sherry Pace Larsen, 48, faces distribution of meth charges, and her sister, 41-year-old Robyn Lee Swanson, faces meth possession charges. Despain said the arrests come after a lengthy investigation.

Neighbors didn’t want to appear on camera but said it’s shocking to find out that’s going on in their neighborhood. Despain said Washington County’s location makes it a target for drug trafficking.

“Where we’re located, right here on I-15, so close to Las Vegas,” Despain said. “It is a major drug throughway, and a lot of drugs are coming through.”

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Russ Talbot also said drug abuse is a growing problem. He works with drug abuse recovery at Talbot Recovery Solutions, and he said many times what starts out with experimentation becomes addiction before the user knows it.

“I know of people who have gone to Vegas to get their product,” Talbot said. “The people they meet up with in Las Vegas, they’ve been described to me as, these aren’t Sunday school choir boys.”

Despain said the task force usually focuses their efforts on larger targets in the distribution chain. Officers work closely with attorneys and the DEA office to build strong cases in their arrests, that’s often why it can take several months.

They urge citizens to watch for suspicious behavior to help them identify drug distribution, and say if something doesn’t appear right, it’s probably not.