DA forms drug task force

District Attorney Anne Kelly for the 12th Judicial District. Courtesy photo.

‘We’re going after the big players’

ALAMOSA — Shortly after District Attorney Anne Kelly was appointed to her position as the chief prosecutor of crimes in the San Luis Valley, she shared with the Valley Courier one of her goals. She intended to form a drug task force to take on the pervasive illegal drug activity that exists in the Valley.

“I identified this as being a core problem when I first came here,” Kelly says. “Addiction breeds a need for more drugs which lead to increased property crimes and quality of life crimes.”

Once Kelly was in office and started asking for public input, her commitment was solidified even more. “When I came to the Valley and started talking to police agencies in the communities, leaders in the communities and citizens in the communities, the number one concern over and over was that the drug problem had gotten progressively worse over the years.”

Her decision to focus on forming a drug task force did not come as a surprise. After Governor Jared Polis announced her appointment in August of 2022, Kelly took the podium and, while standing in front of the Justice Center in Alamosa, made the statement, “To those of you who are distributing and selling your poison to the citizens of this valley, I promise you this. We are coming for you.”

Less than two years later, Kelly has made good on that promise.

The district attorney’s office is currently in the process of officially forming a standing drug task force, comprised of specific law enforcement officers from sheriffs’ offices and police departments across the valley.

“We have a core group of law enforcement officers who are involved as part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the agencies who employ these individuals,” she says, “and we’ve committed to investigating drug operations across the entire Valley.”

The concept of a drug task force is not new to Kelly. She worked with a task force in Weld County when she was a prosecutor with the DA’s office for that jurisdiction.

“I knew the effectiveness of drug task forces in other jurisdictions to be able to start creating longer term investigations that required more manpower. In order to avoid just arresting and charging addicts, we need to go after the people who are distributing the poison to people in the valley. And to be able to do that, we really need to be able to pool our resources together and come up with more effective ways of investigating and charging those dealers.”

Effective drug investigations require time, she says, to build trust with people in the community and to gather information. “It takes time to investigate a particular dealer for a longer period so the charges we can bring are more serious charges because we have more information. We can interdict a one-time sale but that doesn’t happen as often as we’d like. We need to have the resources to commit longer periods of time for the investigation.”

Obviously, people distributing and selling drugs aren’t exactly brick and mortar operations. “These dealers aren’t staying in Alamosa or Center,” she says. “They’re moving and selling across the Valley. So, the drug task force will enable us to pool resources and information from all the agencies in the valley to make our information gathering more effective and useful in going after higher dealers.”

With that in mind, Kelly describes why the MOU between agencies is so important. “If Monte Vista is working with Alamosa Police Department, they don’t have any jurisdiction in Saguache. But this MOU provides them with the authority to do that in that jurisdiction.”

As Kelly describes how the drug task force is established, she says her office is going to be actively involved in investigations and overseeing the team. “But this team was formed organically,” she says. "Because of the relationships they have built, they’d been working together anyway.

“The DA’s office is a mechanism to organize the group and establish legitimacy and purpose to the group so they can have some recognition for the work they’ve done and find ways to be even more effective.”

When asked if she sees this as a proactive approach to law enforcement addressing illegal drug activity, Kelly says, “One hundred percent. That’s the key to a strong task force, by developing relationships and strong sources of information in the valley.

“Most of these drug dealers, their business plan involves not getting caught. They’re not necessarily the ones committing homicides or other offenses where police would respond. Their business is based on being confidential and private because their business won’t survive if they’re exposed. So the goal of the task force is to expose their business operations and try to cut them off.”

The drug task force mission is to go after big players.

“When you have a group of law enforcement agencies that can demonstrate a level of legitimacy and competence, it becomes less attractive to operate your drug business in that area. The valley has been an attractive place to operate drug business in comparison to other parts of the state where drug task forces are more active. We want to make it a less attractive place to do business for these criminal and poison distributors. So, we’re not only going after residents of the valley, we’re trying to cut off the head of the snake.”