McFarland, Allar co-commanders in drug enforcement

The drug division of the Belmont County Major Crimes Unit will now be under the joint command of Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland and Chief Detective Ryan Allar of the Belmont County Sheriff’s Office. They will continue to respond to drug crimes while looking at ways to save money. T-L Photo/ROBERT DEFRANK

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The drug division of the Belmont County Major Crimes Unit is undergoing a change in leadership.

According to Belmont County Sheriff David Lucas, Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland will now share leadership of the division with Chief Detective Ryan Allar of the sheriff’s office. This comes after McFarland was removed from the position Sunday. McFarland had served as task force commander for close to six years, prior to the formation of the major crimes unit. The leadership change arose due to budgetary concerns.

“There is restructuring and reorganization of the Belmont County Major Crimes Unit, which involved budget and hours,” Lucas said. “Chief John McFarland will continue on as the commander, working alongside my chief in the detective agency, Ryan Allar, and they will be co-commanders of the drug division of the major crimes unit.”

Lucas also said the major crimes unit handles a wide range of major crimes, regardless of whether drugs are involved.

“It’s not just one thing. It’s the totality of all the major crimes in Belmont County,” he said. “The major crimes unit runs through my office. The drug division is a part of it. I am mandated by law to stay within my budget. If the money is not there, there has to be a reorganization and restructuring to adapt and adjust to that budget.”

McFarland said he expects the collaboration with Allar to go smoothly.

“Detective Allar is a great person with a great work ethic. I’m looking forward to it,” McFarland said of sharing command.

McFarland spoke about the growing problem of drug abuse and addiction and the challenges faced by the drug division.

“The Belmont County commissioners … give us $50,000 a year to operate the drug task force, and that money is used to reimburse cities and villages for the work that the officers on the task force do outside their corporation, outside their jurisdiction line,” McFarland said.

For example, he said there are cases in which an officer has a confidential informant purchasing drugs in that officer’s municipality and the informant hears of a transaction in another municipality.

“Anytime that that officer leaves the corporation … money out of that $50,000 goes toward his wages for the time that he was outside the village,” McFarland said.

However, increases in llegal drug activity mean the task force already has used the majority of this year’s budget.

“We would submit payroll twice a year, from Jan. 1 to the end of June, then from July 1 to the end of December. In July and the first of January, the municipalities would receive a reimbursement check from the county,” McFarland said. “The first half of this year, from Jan. 1 to the end of June, our reimbursement bill for the agencies throughout Belmont County came to a little bit more than $42,000, which left roughly $8,000 for us to work with toward the end of the year.”

McFarland noted the frequency of drug-related complaints.

“Complaints never go unanswered. I get calls all the time about certain neighborhoods. I’ve gotten calls as far away as Barnesville, as far south as Powhatan,” he said. “I’m not the person to turn anyone away. I do all I can to address the situation. There’s a serious drug problem in Belmont County.”

He also commented on the bulk of cases.

“It’s not a spending spree that we went on. A month and a half ago we had arrest warrants for 40-something people from drug cases we’ve built for the first half of the year. In the near future we’ll have additional arrest warrants for people we’ve built cases on, and everything’s accounted for.”

He added that the 15 officers who work with the task force outside their municipalities report their hours and activities.

“The task force has members from almost every police department in the county that participate,” he said. “All except for two of the officers work as full-time patrolmen through various departments. These guys work a regular eight-hour shift as a patrolman, their regular patrol duties, and once their shift is complete or on their day off, they come in and investigate drug crimes. These guys need to be compensated for the work they put into it.”

McFarland said drug trafficking is on the rise locally.

“It’s more than what it has been in the past, because in the past $50,000 would get us through a year,” he said. “We haven’t added more members to the task force, it’s just their amount of work hours they’re putting in.”

McFarland said law enforcement is working on plans to save money and reduce instances of officers working outside their jurisdictions. Some methods may include officers in one municipality handing over the management of an informant to officers in another municipality when they follow a drug deal. He also hopes to speak with the commissioners about further funding sources.

“We’re definitely going to sit down and try to figure things out. Hopefully we can come up with a way to get some more funding through the rest of the year so we can continue with our investigations,” he said.

He added that while law enforcement seizes money and items used in criminal activities, those proceeds cannot go toward salaries; instead, it is used for making controlled drug buys or for training and equipment.

McFarland pointed out that task force officers are dispatched in pairs for greater safety.

All the while, calls and complaints of drug activity continue.

“I had one the other day, a lady called me in tears. … She was walking with her grandchild and witnessed a drug deal take place right in front of them,” he said. “We have to go after these people. If not, the community’s going to run wild and there’s going to be drug traffickers everywhere.”