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By LeAnn R. Ralph
ELK MOUND — Talk about an eye-opening experience.
At the beginning of the “Hidden in Plain Sight” presentation on the “drug bedroom” at Elk Mound High School, parents in attendance were able to spot one or two items that seemed out of place and could be related to drug use.
By the end of the presentation, members of the audience had learned the mock bedroom contained more than a dozen items related to drug use.
The “Hidden in Plain Sight” bedroom was set up for the Elk Mound school district’s community awareness night November 8. The event also included presentations on school safety and cell phone and Internet safety.
The mock bedroom was developed by the Altoona Police Department, said Elk Mound Police Chief Chad Weinberger, who conducted the presentation on “Hidden in Plain Sight.”
“Sometimes you don’t know what you are looking at until you fully examine the thing,” Chief Weinberger said.
“I am not saying one thing is a ‘red alert,’ but when you have a pattern of about fifteen things, maybe it’s time to have a conversation. Maybe it’s time to look at it a little closer,” he said.
At the beginning of the presentation, Police Chief Weinberger asked people to see if they could identify something that would “lead you to believe there is drug use. What things do you see that you would associate with drug use?”
Prior to becoming the Elk Mound police chief April 1, Weinberger, who has been in law enforcement for 19 years, had worked for the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Department. Prior to that, he had worked in Dane County and Portage County.
During a drug search warrant, there is a process, he said.
“We would come into a room like this, and I would say right away, ‘yup. This is going to be a room that’s going to be positive.’ There are signs and things in here when I was unpacking this that stood out to me,” Police Chief Weinberger said.
“You’d strip the sheets off the bed. You’d search between the mattress and the box spring. You’d search under the bed, you’d search the bed rails of that frame. You’d turn everything up-side-down. You’d put everything in a big pile in the middle of the room, and you’d search systematically,” he said.
“You’d go in a pattern, clockwise, or left to right. But when you’re done, the middle of the room would have a big pile, and the corners of the room would be empty,” Chief Weinberger said.
“The whole idea of ‘hidden in plain sight’ is use your clues, use your experience and figure out what is it I am looking at? Some things are pretty obvious, and some things are not that obvious,” Police Chief Weinberger said.
Consider, for example, whether you allow food in the room. If you do not, and there is a soda pop can, that could be a clue. Pick up the can. Does it feel like an empty soda pop can? Or does it feel like it’s full of concrete? Shake it up. Does it sound empty? Or does it rattle, like there could be pills or rocks inside of it? And what about a Pringles can?
“One parent in the first group said, ‘Shaving cream? I would never have that in my daughter’s room.’ If something looks out of place and doesn’t belong there, there’s probably a reason why,” Police Chief Weinberger said.
The cans and containers Police Chief Weinberger picked up to show the audience had been modified so they could be taken apart and put together again, like unscrewing the lid off a jar and putting the lid back on.
One member of the audience wondered if those were homemade or if they could be purchased.
“All of the above. I’ve seen some people, if they’d put their ingenuity to good use, they’d be a successful entrepreneur. (The modified containers also can be purchased at) Amazon. The Internet. Truck stops. Head shops. e-Bay,” he said.
Some items do not have to be modified in a complicated way to be useful as a hiding spot for drugs.
“Deodorant was famous in the jail setting. They’d take the top off, and they’d crank the dial and take the cartridge out, and they’d put their stuff in there they didn’t want anybody to find and put it back on and dial it back in again. It looks and works like regular deodorant, but when you shake it, there are parts inside there shouldn’t be,” Police Chief Weinberger said.
A can of body spray and a hair brush can also be modified to hide drugs. And what looks like a USB “thumb drive” could be a charger for e-cigarettes, which can also be used to smoke methamphetamine or marijuana, he said.
And what about airtight containers? What do you need to keep fresh? Police Chief Weinberger said.
Then there’s the marker. It looks like a marker, and it smells like a marker, but you take the cover off, and then the bottom comes out, he said.
Other items are not modified at all, but they seem out of place.
“Some of these things you have to ask, do they belong here? Dental picks. Are they really into dentistry and hygiene? What’s going on with that? Or are the picks being used as scoops or to clean out the pipes, the brass screen. Pipe cleaners. Charcoal residue. Lot of times with marijuana, black chunky residue comes from when you’re cleaning out your pot pipes. A lot of times with meth or cocaine, it will be white tailings or shavings as they are cleaning out their pipe,” he said.
A Bic cigarette lighter could be used to smoke cigarettes or marijuana. Take notice if there are butane torches or plumbing torches that do not belong in a bedroom.
“I’ve seen a welding kit in a bedroom already. Ask questions,” Police Chief Weinberger said.
Butane can be used to distill the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, to make “wax” or “dabs.”
“Pay attention to the clothing. Certain brand names are affiliated with certain activities. ‘No Bad Ideas’ is the brand name of the hat. On the inside is a pouch for stashing,” he said
“You have a flex fit hat, and it looks okay, but then in the bill, on the inside of the top is a stash compartment,” Police Chief Weinberger said.
“Of course you look at the backpacks too. Look through the pockets. Some backpacks have hidden pockets. Sometimes again, some things can have hidden compartments. It can look like (a bottle of water) on the top and the bottom, but in between it’s not,” he said.
Pay attention to what they might be smoking out of as well.
“If they have a pop can, they might flatten it out so they don’t burn their hands. Likewise, if you’re around someone smoking a cigarette, you can smell the smoke, and conversely, someone might take a paper towel roll or a toilet paper roll, and with some dryer sheets (inside), try to mask that smell. After they inhale, they blow it through here and you get that dryer sheet smell that smells like ‘springtime fresh’ instead of smoking,” he said.
“Don’t be afraid to open things up. If something seems weird, ask questions,” Police Chief Weinberger said.
One woman in the audience spoke about the tragedy in Lake Hallie when a young man “huffed” from a can of “air” spray used to clean keyboards then got into his truck, drove off the road into the ditch and killed three Girl Scouts and a mother and injured another Girl Scout.
“Now you’re dealing with, ‘I went to Wal-Mart at ten o’clock in the morning and bought a can of spray air.’ Our kids can get their hands on that every day because it is not an illegal substance. It’s not sitting out here. Where do we go with that? We can have the conversation with our child, but …” she said.
“I don’t know as I have the answer to that. I’ve had experiences with people using an air duster and they’ve gotten into car accidents and lost their life in Chippewa County. I know that in certain businesses, they can’t keep air duster on the shelf. When the methamphetamine dries up, that seems to be the next drug of choice. I know that. Just when you think you’ve got something under control, something else comes out,” Police Chief Weinberger said.
“If you would have asked me 20 years ago when I was trying to get into law enforcement jobs and I was in college and wide-eyed and young and wanted to save the world, if you (said you would be) asking me 20 years later why I would be carrying a tourniquet and why I would be carrying my own NARCAN. It’s absolutely mind boggling,” he said.
NARCAN is a drug used to reverse opioid overdose.
“I was a young kid, and I thought we were going to save the world. They marveled over how they had a flashlight with two D cell batteries, and they thought they had the world. Then it went to the giant Maglite with six and eight D cell batteries. Then they said look at these rechargeable stream lights, and they thought that was awesome. And now I have more flashlight power in something the size of a magic marker, than what they had that whole entire time,” Police Chief Weinberger said.
“Technology seems to evolve on a good scale, and technology seems to evolve on a bad scale. Cell phones. Look how they’ve grown in the last five to ten years. They’ve become an intrinsic part of society some people can’t live without, to be connected to work or family or home or social media. But there are people out there using it for other purposes, not for the original intended design,” he said.
“I fear for our kids,” one woman said. “It is getting worse and worse every day.”
“I’m glad the school invited me,” Police Chief Weinberger said, adding that he hoped sharing some of his education and experience would be helpful to the parents who attended.