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Lawmakers hear details on meth problem during state meeting

Lawmakers hear details on meth problem during state meeting

May 30, 2017 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs believes increased incidence of aggravated assault on the Wind River Indian Reservation is tied to a rise in meth use among the community.

BIA police chief Will Mathews provided the information in report on BIA activity to the Select Committee on Tribal Relations meeting May 23 in Lander.

"It's a big problem," Mathews said at the meeting. "It's not so much the quantity they're running across, it's the acts of people that are on it."

Matthews added that victims often don't want to report who assaulted them or discuss the circumstances, suggesting that illicit substances may play a role.

The BIA is mostly falling back on confidential informants to get information on the incidents, Mathews said.

The meth problem in Fremont County seems to be getting worse, concurred Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander.

"That's got to be very difficult," Case said. "This is something that there's no trend toward improvement."

Countywide problem

Meth isn't only a reservation problem, said Fremont County Sheriff Skip Hornecker -- it's a countywide problem too.

Hornecker siad perpetrators may flee law enforcement to the reservation, because they believe they can avoid getting punished or caught within its boundaries. This is not the case in reality, as the BIA and sheriff's office work jointly when crossing jurisdictions.

Hornecker said there's also been an uptick in heroin use in the county, and added that alcohol remains Fremont County's most-abused drug. He said users often are under the influence of more than one substance. His biggest concern, however, is the abuse of prescription drugs.

"That use is running rapant," he said. "It's more available to people."

Innocent beginnings

Based on conversations with addicts at the Fremont County Detention Center in Lander, Hornecker said most prescription drug abusers begin in a "very innocent manner," for example, after an injury. Then they gradually fall into an addiction.

"It's been very frustrating for me," Hornecker said. "It's a very lucrative business (because) we take someone down for it, and there's someone else who takes over."

Hornecker's staff found that one way to "impact the flow" of the prescription drug business is to target the financial arm of illegal businesses.

Staffing concerns

Mathews said he's working toward maintaining a full staff of officers.

Often times, officers work for the Wind River Agency for a few years, then seek another job.

"We get guys trained up and then leaves me, not much I can do about that," he said.

Mathews's agency is assigned budget for 30 officers, 27 patrol officers and three supervisory positions. It's currently looking to fill one of those supervisor jobs, and Mathews said he has his eye on several candidates currently in the U.S. Indian Police Academy.

Mathews said another goal for him is to provide a school resource officer for each school district on the reservation.

Mathews also explained how his staff is managing court cases on the reservation, saying that it was a "big plus" for it when it was asked to follow the Shoshone and Arapaho Law and Order Code rather than the Code of Federal Regulations.

"Basically, we still have a court available to us right now," he said. "It's giving the people the choice of what court to utilize."

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