Pickerington police stepped up efforts this month to combat drug abuse and trafficking by focusing enforcement along a short stretch of Interstate 70.

Pickerington police stepped up efforts this month to combat drug abuse and trafficking by focusing enforcement along a short stretch of Interstate 70.

Pickerington city limits along I-70 are limited to approximately a half-mile near the east-west freeway's interchanges with state Route 256.

But however small, local police believe that portion of the interstate is an important front in Pickerington's battle with illegal drugs, and they're ratcheting up patrols there in hopes of slowing the flow of drugs through and into the city.

"We're in the fledgling stages of it," Pickerington Police Cmdr. Greg Annis said. "We've only worked two details there so far, and it's something we're looking to expand to major roadways in the city.

"Interstate 70 is a major east-west drug trafficking route," he said. "We are sending a message that if you use or deal drugs in Pickerington, we're going to make it extremely uncomfortable for you."

During two, two-hour patrol details focused on finding drugs on I-70 near the Route 256 interchanges conducted as of March 22, Annis said, police stopped 24 vehicles and discovered drugs and drug paraphernalia in three of them.

Annis acknowledged those stops turned up just small amounts of drugs police believe were earmarked for drivers' personal use, rather than drug trafficking, but he noted a relatively high percentage of the vehicles pulled over had drugs in them.

He said department officials believe they will continue to find drugs, and likely larger quantities, that are being transported for sale, if enforcement along the interstate is continued.

He also said Route 256 and Diley Road, among other city thoroughfares, are expected to soon come under more scrutiny as police attempt to keep drugs – particularly harder substances such as heroin, cocaine and illegal prescription pills - and drug dealers at bay.

"It's not a task force," he said. "It's just our agency. The officers are making stops based on traffic offenses.

"This has been something we've been putting in the planning stages the past couple weeks. As we look to expand this, it's going to be using patrols on a lot of the arterial roadways."

The patrol efforts come as Pickerington City Council on March 20 unanimously approved spending $50,500 to hire a new police officer this year.

According to Police Chief Mike Taylor, that move will allow him to appoint a veteran officer to a position that will focus more specifically on drug investigations and enforcement.

"We've noticed an increase of heroin and more serious drugs being increasingly abused," Annis said. "We do know there are a lot of people dealing here, too.

"We're making a concerted effort with our investigations. It's really a broad-front approach."

Annis said police will continue to patrol I-70 and other parts of the city with an eye out for illegal drugs throughout the coming months. Those efforts are aided by the department's canine unit, which literally helps police sniff out drugs stashed in vehicles.

"It's going to be on an ongoing basis," he said. "Really, you could say we're testing the waters and we can modify the program from that."