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Drugs in Portland - Talking Beat

What drugs are in Portland, how do they get on our streets or in our communities, and what is the Drugs and Vice Division doing about it? Commander Art Nakamura leads the division, which we commonly call DVD. They are responsible for investigating drug trafficking organizations and money laundering.

Also: Can you report a bad driver after the fact to Police? And how many Officer Involved Shootings happen in Portland?

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TRANSCRIPT:

Announcer:
Welcome to Talking Beat the podcast for the Portland Police Bureau. We're focusing on thoughtful conversations that we hope will inform and provide you with a small glimpse of the work performed by Portland police officers, as well as issues affecting public safety in our city. Here's what's on today's show.

Commander Nakamura:
What we're seeing now is a problem with school age kids buying Xanax. However, none of the Xanax that we are seeing on the street is actually Xanax. We've got pills that contain fentanyl, other synthetics, so these kids don't know what they're buying.

Announcer:
This episode of the Talking Beat is brought to you by The Portland Police Bureau is hiring. We need people to join us as community police officers in the city of Portland. We have a highly competitive starting wage and great benefits. Come join the best. Visit joinportlandpolice.com for more information. Now onto the show.

Host:
On this episode, we're talking about drugs in our community. What is out there, how it gets on our streets or in our communities, and what the members of the Drugs and Vice Division are doing about it. Commander Art Nakamura leads the division, which we commonly call DVD. They are responsible for investigating drug trafficking organizations and money laundering. Thanks for being here today, Art.

Commander Nakamura:
Thanks for having me today.

Host:
So Art, give us a quick rundown of your division, the kinds of cases you work, and how you work with other agencies.

Commander Nakamura:
Well, the Drugs and Vice Division is a task force, we have Oregon State Police along with us, we have the Oregon National Guard Counterdrug Program, and we also partner with our local and federal partners, include Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, Homeland Security, the postal service, and our neighboring agencies in the region. Again, our focus is, as you mentioned earlier, drug trafficking organizations, the lingo for that is a DTO. Our focus is on those organizations responsible for importing, trafficking, and then distributing the drugs here in Portland.

Host:
So the average person isn't going to see these folks, so tell me, where are we as a community? Are there lots of drug trafficking organizations out there?

Commander Nakamura:
Portland, due to the geographical location, is a transit point for illegal drug trafficking. As you notice, we sit right on the I-5 corridor and on the I-84 corridor, so all the drugs, you can imagine, headed to Washington and Canada from California, travels through Portland. Portland is also a distribution point to head east on I-84 so drugs are transported to Portland, then broken up and distributed east towards Idaho and Montana.

Host:
Are they coming from Mexico or where are the majority of drugs coming from?

Commander Nakamura:
So what we're seeing here in Portland is all of our cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin are being trafficked by Mexican based drug trafficking organizations. So the drugs are actually being produced in Central America, South America, then the cartels in Mexico are the transportation hub. They're smuggling across the border into California and up into Portland. So the drugs we have here in Portland originate in South America, Central America, and Mexico.

Commander Nakamura:
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, they did an in depth study into drug trends for 2016 and 2017. Surprisingly, Oregon was number one in illicit drug use out of all 50 states plus Washington, DC. So it shows that we are unfortunately a high consumer of illicit drugs here in Portland.

Host:
So we kind of buried the lead, we're number one.

Commander Nakamura:
Yes.

Host:
Wow. So those reports you cited, we'll go ahead and put those in the show's notes, because I think that's really appalling. All right, so you've proven to me that we have a lot of drugs in our community and I know we talk on a national level about the opioid crisis, but I'm actually going to start with meth, methamphetamine, because I know it was really big in the 1980s and 1990s when we had drug houses and a lot of communities were really having livability problems because of those drug houses. So I know those drug houses are kind of not existent anymore, so I just thought that meth went away. But when we were talking before the show, you told me that, no, meth is still quite a thing, so what's going on?

Commander Nakamura:
So the whole methamphetamine problem has never gone away. What we did solve was the clandestine methamphetamine laboratory problem here in Portland. I remember back in the early 2000s we did, one year, close to 200 meth labs here in Portland with some legislation, education, and enforcement actions, we've got that down to zero meth labs. So we solved the meth lab problem here in Portland, but the whole methamphetamine problem never went away. Nationally and locally, when we got rid of the meth lab problem, we created a void, so there was still a high demand for methamphetamine. What that did was create a whole new market for drug trafficking organizations to import and sell their methamphetamine where the labs used to sell them. As you know, we are one of the highest consumers of methamphetamine, so when there is a demand, someone will fill the supply.

Host:
Basic economics.

Commander Nakamura:
Yes.

Host:
Okay, so then let's talk about heroin. Do we have heroin on our streets?

Commander Nakamura:
Yes. The drug market here is wide open. The availability of drugs is as high as I've seen in my career here. I've been here in the drug unit on and off since 2000 and the amount and availability of drugs in Portland is at an all time high, which includes your meth and heroin?

Host:
So I read a article that talked about how heroin is kind of disappearing because fentanyl is evolving, are we seeing that here? Are we seeing less heroin because now people are are going to the really hard stuff, fentanyl?

Commander Nakamura:
So fentanyl is prevalent here in Portland. We're starting to see our heroin laced with fentanyl. All of our quote unquote prescription pills that we see on the street are either fentanyl or some type of synthetic opioid. But we still see a large amount of heroin on the streets, but we are seeing an increase in the heroin laced with fentanyl.

Host:
And so then you mentioned opioids, so are we seeing an increased amount of opioids and counterfeit drugs on the street as well?

Commander Nakamura:
Yes. I can say in the past year, every type of commonly referred to as prescription drugs we see on the street, so your oxycodones, your Xanax, those types of drugs, the Drugs and Vice Division has not seized a real pill. For instance, 100% of the oxycodone pills that we have seized on the street was not a real pill. It was made in a pill press somewhere by somebody clandestinely and not in a factory. Same with our Xanax pills we see in the streets. Not one pill we've seen in the past year was a real pill.

Host:
That's really startling and I want to really focus on that for a minute because the buyers out there, they're really looking for that pill, Xanax or oxycodone, and people are dying because they're taking something that maybe the dose is off or there's things laced in there. It isn't from a pharmacy.

Commander Nakamura:
Yes. We have done recent investigations where we have actually seized pill presses and these are in people's basements, their garages, and they're ordering all these chemicals and binders online, making these pills with whatever ingredients they have on hand, and not measuring the exact dosage. So what you're buying from these pill presses is like Russian roulette.

Host:
And I'll give you a little plug here, I know you guys have been nationally honored for your investigations in the dark web. How much of that is your investigations? And tell me a little bit about what the dark web even means for some of our listeners.

Commander Nakamura:
So the dark web is the covert side of the Internet. It's a side of the Internet where your IP addresses are hid and you think you're operating in a unknown area. So it's very commonly used now and you see commercials on TV about searching the dark net for your information. It's a hot bed for trafficking drugs, firearms, counterfeit, forgery items. The ease with the dark net is, I could buy and order drugs from anywhere in the world, have it shipped directly to my house, and I can use whatever cyber currency to pay for these drugs. So I don't have to meet anybody at any parking lot, I don't have to have face to face contact with anybody, I don't have to worry about getting robbed by anybody. I can do it from the safety of my home and have the drugs delivered straight to me.

Host:
But you guys have been successful in investigating some of those and you've actually trained some other agencies about it, correct?

Commander Nakamura:
Yes. We train other jurisdictions across the nation how to investigate these type of crimes. Unfortunately, how we became experts in this was with overdoses here in Portland with fentanyl. We're able to track the source of the pills back to the east coast and we've done successful prosecutions of those selling and distributing the drugs nationwide.

Host:
Why should we care really, Art? I mean there are people who say, "Okay, legalize drugs and if people want to destroy their lives, then let them destroy their lives and how does it really affect our community?"

Commander Nakamura:
So the effects that drug cause in that one person, you'll see increases in property crime to fuel the drug habit, they have to get money to purchase these drugs. You'll see violent crimes, you'll see robberies. And another thing we see here in Portland is a term called meth-induced psychosis, where the methamphetamine will cause hallucinations, will cause paranoia, and oftentimes they'll act out in a violent way. Has also lead to deaths. In fact, methamphetamine is the number one drug for drug related deaths over heroin, over the fentanyl. Meth kills people. And the ripple effect it has in the community is huge. So you say, "We should let people hurt themselves," but it's our role in the community to help those who can't help themselves. If I have a drug addiction problem, and I've seen something we need to get involved and try to help that person.

Host:
So are we on the right path? Do we criminalize it or do we get people more treatment? What do we do?

Commander Nakamura:
So as far as the criminal justice system, we have gone to drug courts focusing on rehabilitation for user amounts and drug abuse. So we really want to focus on the intervention and prevention of drug use. Again, once we get rid of that demand, the supply will drop.

Host:
Your division really is concentrating on the supplier though, you're taking down the big guys, the people who are making a lot of money on the backs of addicts. So tell me about some of your latest seizures.

Commander Nakamura:
You're correct. The Drugs and Vice Division does not target drug users, drug abusers, or small possession amounts. An example, last year in 2018 the Drugs and Vice Division, along with our regional and federal partners, targeted a drug trafficking organization and we seized over 15 kilograms of heroin, three kilos of methamphetamine, and about $18,000 in cash. And this was a group working here locally in Portland and those are the type of cases that the Drugs and Vice Division are routinely involved with.

Host:
Have to ask a silly question, but what does a kilo look like? I mean, I've never held a kilo in my hands, so give me something that it's comparable to.

Commander Nakamura:
A kilo would be a gallon size Ziploc bag full. Then an average dosage unit is about 0.1 to 0.2 grams, so that's a few thousand hits of heroin in a kilogram.

Host:
So what kind of messages should parents be talking to their kids about? Let's start at the very beginning and see if we could curb drug use among young people.

Commander Nakamura:
Parents should be more involved. The parents are the most important influential person in their child's life. First of all, they have to create a positive environment where it encourages open communication. When the parents grew up to the kids grew up now, it's two different days and ages. Our social media, your regular media, it just kind of glamorizes drug use. So we have to have that open communication and also be aware of your kid's friends, who they're hanging out with, their social activities, and the signs to look for is obviously being deceitful, not being honest with where they're at, who they're hanging out with, if your child is doing poorly in school, being lethargic around the house or being overactive, not being themselves. I had teenage kids at once and you'll see changes in their personality and behavior, which is normal, but as a parent you got to look for things that, if you know aren't right, you need to address it, you need to intervene and figure out what's going on.

Host:
Is there something we can say about, I think, making the point that so many of these drugs are so dangerous now and they're at levels that you can easily overdose. I mean, is it at least messaging that, that if you're buying, especially like these counterfeit pills you were talking about, you have no idea what you're buying and you have no idea what you're putting in your body. It can have anything in it and you won't wake up.

Commander Nakamura:
So what we're seeing now is a problem with school age kids buying a drug commonly referred to as Xanax. However, none of the Xanax that we are seeing on the street is actually Xanax. We've got pills that contain fentanyl, other synthetics, such as U-4700, which is so new, it doesn't have a name yet, it has a number. So these kids don't know what they're buying. There is a issue in the news where there are multiple kids who purchased Xanax from another student and they all overdosed. Luckily they all survived, but that's a classic example of teenagers purchasing what they thought were Xanax pills but turned out to be something completely else.

Host:
So I think for some people drugs is something that's out there and it doesn't really affect them until it does. And then you have a family member or a loved one or a friend and you see them spiraling down. So what can they do?

Commander Nakamura:
Drugs affects everyone. I think everyone has a family member or a distant family member that has been touched by drug abuse and I feel it's, as a family member or friend, it's our responsibility to get involved, to intervene. There's a lot of resources out there available. Multnomah County Health Department has services free of charge that can help in the recovery and intervention of drug abuse. So as far as parents' involvement, there are government funded programs to help with strategies on how to talk to your kids, how to get involved. One of them is drugfree.org and another one is Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Both of those have a lot of information, which is free of charge, you can get on the Internet and download a whole bunch of useful, free information.

Host:
And we'll go ahead and put that in our show notes as well as other resources. So Art, I really want to thank you. This has been good information, but I always like to end on a high note and this has been a lot of heavy material, so we embrace our stereotypes at the Portland Police Bureau. Tell me what your favorite doughnut is.

Commander Nakamura:
Donut. Ah, it's going to have to be a malasada, which is a Portuguese doughnut that you can only find in Hawaii and that is my favorite doughnut. If you can find one here locally, I'll buy a dozen for you.

Host:
Okay, you're on. Thanks, Art.

Announcer:
Let's check in with the Traffic Division for answers to some questions regarding safety on our streets.

Host:
We often get emails or calls from people who say that they know somebody who just drove under the influence. Can people report that after the fact?

Sgt. Engstrom:
They can absolutely report it. If it's something that's happening immediately and they see a drunk driver who's swerving all over the road or whatever, they can absolutely call 9-1-1, give out the information. We don't encourage people to follow dangerous drivers because we don't want them to get hurt in any way as well, the person who's making that phone call. But they can absolutely call it in and we can, staffing permitting, we will get out there and look for that vehicle if we're able. Sometimes we got so many calls going on that we can't go in every different direction at the same time, but we'd like to be able to. If it's after the fact and a time period has passed and they have that license plate that they want to report, they can absolutely report that.

Sgt. Engstrom:
I actually just got a letter that had a license plate of a vehicle that they witnessed that was kind of swerving around in their lane a little bit and they followed it down on the freeway and then, anyway, they decided to write a letter and send it in and we ran the plate and it turns out the plate of the vehicle we ran did not match the description so we weren't able to follow it through completely. But before I realized they didn't match, I actually called the registered owner of that vehicle to talk to them about it, and that's when we found out that we're talking about two different types of cars completely, and so it wasn't the right person. However, we can follow up on those if we have the time, if we're able to. We have to allocate our resources where they will do the most good and so we can't always go after that one person, but if there is a big problem area where we're seeing a lot of dangerous behaviors or problems, then we can try and allocate our resources to that area.

Sgt. Engstrom:
The best way to contact us, if you have an immediate need, then it would be 9-1-1 or the nonemergency number, which is 823-3333, if something needs to be done right now. If you have a general complaint about an area in your neighborhood or an area on your commute that needs some extra traffic enforcement attention, then the best way to report that is to call 823-SAFE and there are folks that that take all those calls and they put them into our system and all the ones that are labeled with traffic enforcement are my responsibility. So I go through those as I get time and try and read through them and triage the ones that need the most attention.

Announcer:
If you have a question for our Traffic Division, send an email to talkingbeat@portlandoregon.gov. We're taking a short break for shameless self promotion.

Announcer:
Be sure to follow the Portland Police Bureau on social media. Use the handle @Portlandpolice on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Announcer:
Now it's time for tough questions, our segment where we answer your toughest questions regarding policing or public safety.

Sgt. Simpson:
Today's question is why do police shoot so many people? In any given year, Portland police officers are responding to hundreds of thousands of calls for service and making community contacts in the streets of Portland. It is very, very rare to have any use of force. In fact, over the last few years, it's been less than 1% of all calls result in any kind of use of force. Officer involved shootings are even more rare, but they receive a very high profile treatment from not only the police bureau, but by the community.

Sgt. Simpson:
Since 2010, the Portland Police Bureau has posted information about every officer involved shooting on the Portland police Bureau website to be transparent and accountable to the community and to help people understand what led to the officer involved shooting. Because of the high profile nature and media coverage of officer involved shootings, it often can lead to a perception that police officers are shooting a lot of people when in reality, there are very few officer involved shootings in any given year. While there's sometimes a perception that officers are involved in a lot of shootings, the reality is that most officers will never be involved in a shooting in their entire career.

Announcer:
Thanks for listening to the Talking Beat. Do you have a question for us? You can call and leave a message on our dedicated voicemail line at (971) 339-8868 or send us an email to talkingbeat@portlandoregon.gov. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with your friends. More episodes can be found at our website, portlandoregon.gov/police/podcast.