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1989: THE YEAR AHEAD : WAR ON DRUGS : Strike Force Maintains Focus on Major Dealers

Orange County’s strike team enters its third year with five more officers on the force and a continued emphasis on major drug dealers.

“Since what we’ve been doing has been working so well, we don’t anticipate changing. We’re going after high-level traffickers and trying to hit ‘em where it hurts,” said Sgt. John Betehe of the Regional Narcotics Suppression Program.

“We have an in-house joke,” Betehe said. “If it isn’t at least 100 kilos or the money isn’t in six figures, you’re wasting time on surveillance.”

That emphasis on major dealers produced seizures in 1988 of almost $26 million in cash as well as more than 3,000 pounds of cocaine, almost 25 pounds of heroin and 372 pounds of marijuana. Betehe predicted that the team would equal or better those numbers in 1989.

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The strike force is composed of police officers from the Sheriff’s Department, 18 municipal police departments and four federal agencies, including the U.S. Customs Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The force now includes 38 officers, five more than it had in early 1988, Betehe noted.

Also in 1989, county schoolchildren will be the target of new drug education efforts by the Sheriff’s Department and a newly formed nonprofit foundation.

County supervisors in November approved a $307,000 program by sheriff’s deputies aimed at fifth- and sixth-graders. Lt. Bill Miller, who directs it, said that so far the Orange Unified, Saddleback Valley and Capistrano Valley school districts have approved the 3-hour course.

And this year, a new foundation called Drug Abuse Is Life Abuse expects to spend $100,000 promoting that theme and distributing pledge cards against drug abuse at grocery stores, shopping malls and businesses around Orange County.

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