Jefferson County courts seeing about 70 drug-related cases a day in 2017
The number of drug-related crimes across Louisville is growing, a trend that court records show has continued over the last 10 years.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The number of drug-related crimes across Louisville is growing, a trend that court records show has continued over the last 10 years.
"It has a huge impact on our system," Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine said. “It has a huge impact on how we deal with the people in our community.”
More than 9,500 drug-related cases have been introduced into Jefferson County's court system in just the first four and half months of 2017. More than 18 percent of those are major cases, like narcotics trafficking and possession.
"There's a definite increase in the number of charges ... that's skyrocketing,” Wine said.
Wine says looking at drug charges alone doesn't draw a clear picture of the issue at large. He estimates 95 percent of crimes in Jefferson County are drug-fueled.
"People are using drugs, or selling drugs, or commit crimes while they're on drugs,” Wine said.
Circuit Court Judge McKay Chauvin agrees.
"When we see someone in criminal court, it is almost always the result of drugs in one form or another,” he said.
Both court officials say most crime is motivated by drugs, even if it’s not reflected the data. But defendants don’t always face a drug-related charge, even if the crime is drug-fueled.
"All the robberies, burglaries, all the shoplifting,” Chauvin said. “Anything that you can think of that people will do out of desperation to get money to give to people who are selling drugs.”
The heroin crisis in Kentucky is so severe that it has prompted elected officials to re-evaluate how many drug-related cases are handled.
"There's no cookie cutter solution," Chauvin said. "You treat every person as an individual."
Overdose deaths hit record highs last year, and there are no signs those statistics are slowing down.
"We are not looking to prosecute and throw away the key on the users, the addicts, the people who are hurting,” Wine said.
However, there are some tough decisions to make inside the courtrooms.
"Are they somebody who's had treatment before and failed?” Chauvin said. “Is it somebody who's never had treatment? Are they somebody who wants treatment? There are all kinds of factors. And you also have to balance that to the risk of the community while you're giving them treatment.”
The Commonwealth's Attorney's Office Narcotics Unit works to get drug traffickers off the street. Frank Dahl, an Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney, is in charge of the unit.
"They're predators," Dahl said. "Their jobs and their career description is seeking prey who will buy this product from them, knowing full well what it’s doing to people."
To better handle the massive caseload caused by the heroin epidemic, court officials created what they call the Heroin Rocket Docket. It speeds along the process and helps separate dealers and users.
“A case will take anywhere from 60-90 days under the old system," Wine said. "We're doing them in under 30 days, sometimes 20 days, which means less time to commit crimes, more time to get treatment and save that life.”
The rocket docket also helps clear courtrooms to free up resources for other cases that are not drug-related.
"From where that heroin starts to how it gets here is a trail of blood, just death and misery, from everybody along the way,” Chauvin said.
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