Sheriff’s department takes “proactive approach” to Cortland’s meth problem

Editor’s Note: The following article is Part 4 in a five-part series exploring issues of drug and alcohol addiction in Cortland County as part of National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

CORTLAND, N.Y. – Despite topping the list of New York State counties in 2014 for meth-related incidents, local law enforcement officials say they are making progress against the county's meth problem.


Lt. Todd Caufield, who heads the sheriff's department's Drug Task Force, says meth “absolutely” remains a serious problem in the county.

For the past year, Caufield has delivered presentations to different organizations and community groups, offering advice on how to spot drug activity.

“What it’s done is given us extra sets of eyes out there,” Caufield says. “We know we’re getting our point across because that, in turn, raises our calls for service.”

“People are smelling chemicals in the area that’s not normal to the area they live,” he added. “Sometimes, it’s the time of day and the traffic coming and going from residences…that draws the attention of concerned citizens and the police.”

Caufield says all officers in the sheriff’s department are taught proactive techniques for handling meth incidents.

Meth incidents declining

There were 29 reported meth incidents in Cortland County in the first nine months of 2014, according to the New York State Intelligence Center, more than any other county in the state. By the end of 2014, the number of reported incidents had risen to 39, according to Caufield.

To date, the sheriff’s department has responded to 16 such incidents in 2015, though Caufield notes that doesn’t include several incidents handled by the city of Cortland Police Department and the Homer Police Department.

Those incidents range from active meth labs to “one-pot” labs found discarded on roads and in ditches throughout the county.

Still, Undersheriff Herb Barnhart says the numbers show that meth incidents are down in 2015.

“We’ve been very proactive on this,” Barnhart said. “We’ve seen it coming the last couple of years.”

Reality or perception?

While the high number of reported meth incidents in 2014 is not in dispute, some law enforcement officials have suggested that taking a proactive approach to the problem has inevitably led to more drug arrests.

Caufield says while there’s certainly been a rise in methamphetamine use in the community in recent years, increased enforcement can also account for the rise in reported incidents.

"If you’re not proactive and don’t’ go out there and address the problem, your numbers are going to be lower,” he said.

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