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Tri-State agencies hopeful Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center can jump-start stalled investigations

Narcotics facility tech
Posted at 12:01 AM, Apr 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-14 00:01:36-04

WEST CHESTER, Ohio — Law enforcement agencies across the region are seeing tools change the way they investigate drug cases and help overdose survivors around Cincinnati.

Intelligence analysts with the Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center caught a prison inmate dealing drugs in Ohio from California. Still, the ONIC's dark web and cryptocurrency savvy teams armed with an array of high-tech tools expect much more.

"You're going to see a shift within law enforcement to go into these more high-tech cyber crimes because there's a shift in your traditional drug dealers working a corner or working out a trap house," said Xavier Diaz, an ONIC intelligence analyst. "It's so much easier to go on the dark web using your personal computer."

Diaz and his colleagues know how to see through fake profiles and private networks to identify suspects trying to illegally sell narcotics anonymously. The team of nine state employees and two Ohio National Guard members also have tools to open locked cell phones. Diaz showed WCPO 9 News how intelligence teams preserve and pluck text messages, photos, videos and mapping data from mobile devices in special signal-blocking Faraday boxes that prevent anyone from erasing anything remotely.

"It gives us another tool to find evidence to hold drug dealers accountable," said Tom Fallon, who directs the Hamilton County Quick Response Team as part of the county addiction response coalition.

Police from West Chester, Sharonville, Cincinnati, the Butler County Sheriff's Office and a dozen others think the center could jump-start stalled investigations where detectives need help tying suspects to physical evidence. Small agencies do not have the money to afford the ONIC's technology, Gov. Mike DeWine said. The larger agencies are struggling to find enough manpower to cover growing numbers of narcotics investigations that require intelligence analysis.

ONIC intelligence analyst Kara Robb helped authorities get a 50-year prison conviction for a suspected drug dealer in Perry County.

"(In texts) he outlined where he was holding the drugs, where he was going, who he was meeting with," Robb said. "He also outlined how much he sold the drugs for and the levels of drugs he sold."

Funded by the state, ONIC's resources are free and open to any law enforcement agency. That invites more information and leads shared between departments, DeWine said. It also allows detectives to identify common suspects and better see statewide trafficking trends like the purple meth currently sold illegally all over Ohio.

"When we identify a source of supply that may be able to connect with one of my buddies at Warren county that they're (working) an overdose death (investigation)," Fallon said. "So, it's really going to enhance the data sharing, which is going to be really good."

It may take time, but every police chief who visited the center said they were certain the impact will be huge.

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