OSWEGO — In the 11 months since Mayor Billy Barlow announced that he was creating a city-specific detail to focus on growing problems with heroin, molly and other drugs in Oswego, police have been busy.
Since beginning operations on March 1, 2022, through the end of the year, the City of Oswego Drug Task Force has made 122 arrests and executed 30 search warrants, Barlow said.
As part of their work investigators last year seized: 1,960 bags of heroin/fentanyl, 25 grams of pressed fentanyl, 1,001 grams of molly, 96 grams of methamphetamine, and 28.5 grams of crack cocaine. They also seized 38 Suboxone strips, which are used to treat opioid addiction, 38 miscellaneous pills and seven guns.
Investigators took custody of more than $61,000 of suspected proceeds from drug sales.
Barlow, who announced the formation of the detail last year during his State of the City Address, lauded the work of the task force, which consists of four Oswego police officers, in its inaugural year.
“Some of these cases took quite a bit of surveillance and intelligence to be able to get search warrants signed and executed,” he said.
Although Barlow announced that the city was forming a drug task force early last year, and some drug arrests happened by chance as the result of activities such as traffic stops, he said it took a considerable amount of time for investigators to open cases and collect enough evidence to begin making arrests.
“It was just getting off the ground,” he said. “To be able to do that all in a year is impressive.”
For years, the city police department was part of the Oswego County Drug Task Force, which pools the resources of multiple police agencies for larger drug investigations. The city police contributed two officers to the county task force, which operated out of city office space on the third floor of the Conway Municipal Building on West Second Street in Oswego.
Barlow had been interested in creating a city task force for years but said he hadn’t received much interest from city police brass. Then, in 2020, he began noticing the county task force was shifting its efforts toward Fulton and the Route 481 corridor.
“Which I certainly understand,” he said. “At the same time, we were finding an increase in molly and heroin on the street.”
Barlow became frustrated by increased drug use in public, particularly in parks, which the city had invested heavily in improving. He said the new police leadership was receptive to the idea of creating a city task force and the Common Council supported the proposal, allocating $250,000 for manpower and equipment to get the task force off the ground.
“It became kind of a natural choice for me,” Barlow said. “I think we were contributing more than other local departments and wanted to see some of those contributions turn into results that we probably weren’t going to see.”
Oswego County District Attorney Greg Oakes said that all the investigators from various police agencies work well together and maintain open lines of communication regardless of whether they participate in a specific task force.
He said the new city task force has been very proactive in working on a number of drug investigations, particularly involving heroin and fentanyl, which are the predominant drugs in the community right now. Even though the city task force is a relatively small detail, they have several investigators that Oakes described as “balls of fire” who put together exceptionally good cases. He declined to name them because of the sensitive nature of their work.
Oakes said that in 2019 there were 50 felony drug cases in the county. Oswego police accounted for 16. Last year, there were 56 felony drug cases and Oswego police were responsible for 27.
Despite the city task force focusing on its own in-depth investigations, surveillance operations and enforcement details, Barlow said the city still cooperates with the county drug task force, which was formerly under the purview of the DA’s office and is now operated out of the sheriff’s office.
Barlow said the county task force and the sheriff’s office are still doing great work, but that greater attention on drug activity in the city was needed.
“I think we’re getting much better results now that we’re operating more independently,” Barlow said.