From Columbiana County Drug Task Force Director Brian McLaughlin:
A drug bust from the time a tip reaches his offices until it reaches the courts could be a year, not the 30 minutes shown on a typical television crime show.
- Tips generally are received from "our eyes and ears on the street" - residents who are living in the areas where the drug problems exist. The tip-off is high levels of traffic that stay for short periods of time. Tips are kept confidential.
- Once tips are received, the drug task force develops a confidential informant who is "able to pave the way for us to get inside and make a controlled buy."
- A search warrant is generally sought from the court. This entails gathering all the intelligence and surveillance information collected concerning the residence and presenting it to the judge. Enough probable cause must be presented before a search warrant will be granted by the judge.
- Armed with the search warrant, law enforcement officers go to the suspect residence unannounced, knock and announce their presence. If there is no answer, they breach the door and enter.
- Once inside, officers begin searching the residence for items outlined in the search warrant, which covers all drugs. "Odds are, if we come across stolen goods, we have to get a second search warrant," McLaughlin noted.
- Drugs and drug paraphernalia are documented and confiscated as evidence.
- Drug arrests are sometimes made during execution of the search warrant but not often because lab results cannot always be available in time to meet court appearance time limits. Arrests during search warrant executions are more often for such offenses as having firearms on the premises.
- Evidence is sent to the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the investigative arm of the attorney general's office.
- All evidence is presented to the grand jury for possible indictments.
- Time frame from tip to trial varies, but typically eight to 12 months and the court process takes about 12 months.