It was cold Wednesday morning, 20 degrees below normal late-April temperatures, but the Sedalia Police Department officers didn’t seem to notice.
A team of about 10 met at the station around 4:30 a.m. for a briefing on a suspected drug home in northeast Sedalia. STING Unit Detective Mike Elwood led the discussion, informing the patrol officers and fellow detectives that this would be a “no-knock” warrant; one of the residents was allegedly dealing meth. There was a home and a garage to search so the team was split in two and given assignments. Nothing was left to chance; even the route to the house was planned out well in advance.
By 5 a.m. the officers were loaded into either patrol cars or the department’s STING Unit van, affectionately known as “The Blue Falcon,” ready to roll. As an officer drove nearer to the home he called out street names, prepping the six officers in the back. Most were quiet, visibly preparing for the search.
As soon as the van reached the home officers opened the back and side doors, jogging up to the house with shields, flashlights and guns drawn and ready. Two different officers used battering rams to force open the house’s front door and the garage door, quickly secured the scene and arrested two suspects.
It took all of eight minutes.
A new unit
The SPD STING Unit is fairly well-known around town. Last year they were involved in serving approximately 50 search warrants, including one that led to finding a pound of meth. In February the dynamics changed when longtime detectives Larry Parham and Dave Smith returned to patrol, and Elwood joined Det. Kevin Klein in the unit.
“It’s tough having two guys instead of three, it takes a little longer to get evidence, to write a search warrant, but we’re making it work,” Klein said.
Police Chief John DeGonia said part of the reason the unit switched to two detectives is because the department recently reallocated some resources. Thanks to a successful ATF investigation and raid last November that netted 37 suspects in a cocaine ring, the federal agency is continuing its “co-investigation relationship” with the SPD.
“Working with different federal agencies allows us to follow a narcotic trail outside our jurisdiction, for one, but it also gives us the potential to get up to 80 percent of federal seizures,” DeGonia said. “That money has to be spent in this department and helps offset some of our budget costs. At the end of the year, anything we don’t use (from city funds) goes right back to the city budget. It’s a win-win for us.”
Since the change Klein and Elwood “have hit the ground running,” DeGonia added.
“They’ve proven themselves to be deserving of being there,” he said. “The detectives (in the STING Unit) are hand-picked by command staff. We look at their work activity, if they’re self-motivators. Both Klein and Elwood deserve to be down there; I think they’re proving that with the number and quality of searches they’ve gone on.”
“A whole different style of policing…”
Klein and Elwood have history at the department. Though they worked opposite night shifts, they started around the same time. They also have the distinction of both being named Officer of the Year — Elwood in 2013 and Klein in 2014.
“I think we work well together,” Klein said. “He definitely has more patience with some things than I do and he’s sometimes better at asking questions to build a drug case differently than I would.”
“It’s definitely a whole different style of policing down here,” Elwood added. “Even interviewing someone on the scene is different from patrol, so in the beginning it was really good to have Klein’s experience here.”
While the detectives may be on their own in the unit, they routinely call on their former STING Unit detectives for help when needed.
“Sometimes I think ‘OK this is how I’ll handle this case’ and then call Dave (Smith) or (Cmdr. Matt) Wirt because they were in investigations so long, and they’ll tell me something I hadn’t thought of or a different way to look at the case,” Klein said.
Klein can also use that knowledge to help make cases, noting he recently spoke to Officer Ryan Reed, who previously served in the unit, about a suspect.
“We were at the point where we finally had enough evidence for a search, and Reed had started that case when he was down here two years ago,” he said. “They’re also good about giving us information that they find on patrol. If they arrest someone for possession, for example, and that person wants to be an informant for us, they hand them off and then we get more information about a case or person.”
Neither detective could estimate the number of cases they had open. Unlike the detective unit, where detectives are assigned cases, the STING Unit handles all major cases involving drugs.
“We may be working on this number of cases, but we also have to keep in the back of our minds, ‘OK this guy sells this’ and ‘we need to keep an eye on this group of people,’” Klein said. “There are times when someone’s name comes up and it’s been a year since we started that case, a year until we could get enough evidence built up to have enough for a search warrant.”
DeGonia praised Elwood and Klein, saying he believed they were on track to equal or surpass the number of search warrants served last year. Down in the STING Unit office, the detectives are a little more skeptical.
“It’d be great to have another person here,” Klein said. “But it’d also be great to have another 10 people here. There’s a lot of drug crime in Sedalia, I don’t think even with more manpower we could get ahead of it. Right now we just have to keep doing the work we’re doing, figuring out what’s legit to run with and what needs more evidence.”
“It’s been fun so far, getting to do something so different than patrol,” Elwood said. “I think we’re doing well as a two-man unit, we just need to keep working, to make sure we’re getting the best information and making our cases.”