McFarland commands drug task force

MARTINS FERRY – The Belmont County Drug Task Force will continue its work under new leadership. Chief John McFarland has accepted the post of commander for the task force. He will replace the late Chief Timothy Zdanski of the Bethesda Police Department.

“If I can do half of what Tim did I will feel successful,” McFarland said, noting the excellent task force Zdanski had left. His immediate priorities will be expanding the program’s resources and streamlining its efficiency.

“My ultimate goal is to get as much funding as I can for this task force,” he said, adding that their funding is derived from a grant and any seized assets resulting from arrests.

“It’s tough to operate a drug task force on the budget we’re provided,” McFarland said, adding that the task force must often utilize older surveillance equipment. Better tools would also aid in gathering evidence. Another goal is finding a new headquarters for the task force.

Another issue is working with departments to better allow task force officers to handle drug cases. The seven officers of the task force are from departments across the county. They work full-time with their police departments as well.

“It’s tough to free up time for officers to investigate special cases,” he said, noting that in Martins Ferry, he had the option of utilizing part time officers to allow drug task force members to work cases.

Task Force Officer TA Starkey reported that a typical drug case calls for 25-30 hours of investigation, providing everything goes perfectly. Very often circumstances will increase the necessary hours.

“It could be done a better way,” McFarland said.

Starkey added that abuse of prescription pills have been an ongoing problem in the area, but since new manufacturing methods make it more difficult to illicitly administer them through sniffing or injection, officers have been seeing a rise of heroin use as well as crack and marijuana.

“Chief Zdanski did an outstanding job as commander of the task force. There’s no doubt he’s going to be missed, but I also believe that Chief McFarland is up for the challenge,” said Prosecutor Chris Berhalter. “He certainly has the experience in this field and his work has never been anything less than excellent. I have no doubt he will be a tremendous asset to the task force and help it to continue to combat this problem.”

He noted the importance of the task force.

“Drug trafficking is a problem. Not only that crime itself, but it also forms the underlying basis of so many other crimes, from felonious assaults to burglaries. This drug task force is every law enforcement agency now working together to combat this problem head on. What they have accomplished has made a real difference in our community. By working together and sharing resources, they have accomplished more than they ever would have on their own.”