Law enforcement holds town hall to address concerns over crime rates, fentanyl and school shootings
IDAHO FALLS – Local law enforcement held a town hall Thursday night at Eagle Rock Middle School to address crime in eastern Idaho and take questions from the public.
Idaho Falls Police Department Chief Bryan Johnson, Bonneville County Sheriff Sam Hulse, Idaho State Police Captain Chris Weadick and Bonneville County Prosector Randy Neal answered questions and discussed hot-button issues like the fentanyl crisis, the increase in the local homeless population and the growing population of Idaho Falls.
In response to many questions about an uptick in crime, especially drug-related, Johnson told the crowd IFPD recently applied to be recognized as a High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area with the DEA, which would assist local law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States.
“We applied recently to become (recognized as) a high-intensity drug trafficking area because we recognize that drugs are a significant issue in our location,” Johnson said. “We were turned down because other jurisdictions are having worse drug issues than what our community was having.”
Johnson continued to say that even though the application was denied, officers still do everything they can to take drugs off the streets of Idaho Falls.
“It’s here, it’s entrenched, and we’re working on it constantly,” he said.
Many questions revolved around the fentanyl crisis and what local law enforcement is doing to protect the public from “fake pills.”
According to a U.S. Department of Justice fact sheet handed out at the town hall, the U.S. Department of Drug Enforcement Administration has seized 20 million fake pills, often laced with fentanyl, just this year.
Hulse told the public that there is a “huge” problem with fentanyl and that it is “poisoning our nation.”
“If you don’t have an understanding of what forms it’s taking, it’s critical that you inform yourself,” Hulse said. “The drug cartels are pressing illicit pills that look like pharmaceuticals and they’re flooding it into our area.”
Hulse went into detail about how drug cartels are fooling people into taking dangerous pills that potentially contain fentanyl and can lead to serious complications or death.
“The problem is, somebody will get a pill and look at it and think, oh, that’s safe. Because culturally, we think that a pharmaceutical can generally be safe,” Hulse said. “But the current data from the DEA says that four out of every 10 pills are lethal, that they have a fatal dose of fentanyl in it.”
When asked if the increase in crime in our area is linked to increased drugs, Johnson said yes.
“They are certainly linked. 70% to 80% of people who get locked up in prison were high on drugs when they committed their crime,” Johnson said. “A lot of theft is linked to drugs.”
Weadick also chimed in to say Idaho Gov. Brad Little is attempting to assist local law enforcement in getting the fentanyl crisis under control.
“On a state level, Gov. Little has a fentanyl group put together called the Esto Perpetua, and he has taken a representative from each district to your towns to help us identify how we are going to try and deal with this on a state level,” Weadick said. “When my kids come home from grade school talking about the DARE program where they’re talking about these topics like fentanyl, and how it now looks like a bag of skittles, it opens up the conversation for me as a parent about the dangers of this.”
Another widely discussed topic was the increase in the local homeless population and what law enforcement can and cannot do regarding people residing in public spaces.
“Zoning requirements for the city would not have allowed that particular location to do what they were wanting to do, so I do not think they went forward with their plan,” Johnson said. “But it was private property, and if you’re within the zoning requirements on private property, people can do what they want to do.”
Johnson also addressed the increase in the homeless population in general after an audience member asked about people living “under overpasses” and “in parks.”
“Homeless is a status, and I’m not here to argue any sort of politics with you. The Supreme Court has said that homelessness is not illegal,” Johnson said. “So we can’t go out there and arrest people just because they’re homeless. Homelessness does not equate to be illegal activity, and I think we need to establish between those.”
The town hall ended with questions from the audience about the IFPD and the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office’s preparedness measures if a school shooting ever occurred in the area.
“It depends on where the school is at, so if this school is located (in this area), our response time is going to be pretty good,” Hulse said. “But a lot of bad can happen in a short amount of time, and that’s something we’re all very concerned about.”
Johnson addressed concerns about police being mentally ready to prepare for something like a school shooting after Uvalde, Texas officers failed to breach classroom doors before 19 children, and two teachers were killed.
“If you look at Rigby where they’ve unfortunately had theirs, state police responded, deputies from Bonneville County responded, IFPD responded, we had kids there. Some of my officers who responded had kids there,” Johnson said. “I guarantee you, I have had decent control over my officers, but if I tried to block them from going into a school shooting, they would pick me up, throw me in a garbage can, and roll me down the road. There would be no stopping them from going into that school to save kids because that’s what they do.”
Neal assured the crowd that law enforcement is trying to be vigilant about finding red flags before they can cause an active-shooter event.
“Every Thursday morning, law enforcement officers, the schools, and the juvenile probation team all talk to each other on Zoom about specific individuals to try and identify red flags,” said Neal. “It’s active here in Bonneville County.”