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In Butler County’s drug battle, this task force is the one chasing the biggest criminals

The Butler Undercover Regional Narcotics Taskforce, a multi-agency narcotics unit operated by the sheriff’s office, has been investigating high-level drug dealers in the hopes of making big busts . The unit has used manpower from local law enforcement and aide from state and federal agencies to get its mission accomplished.

Called BURN, the task force promoted a victory this week, noting in a Monday news conference that a father and son had been arrested the previous weekend with seizures of drugs, cash, vehicles and more. It was the latest bust for a unit that connects agencies throughout the county, but the size of busts — and the operations they battle —is growing, they say.

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Narcotics Sgt. Mike Hackney, the leader of the BURN task force, said the unit is trying to build on recent successes. .

“Obviously, we are hurting the drug dealers because we are coming after them,” he said. “Today (Wednesday) is a prime example. We’ve got multiple agencies involved today as we are serving six search warrants so things are going good.”

MORE: Hamilton police: Major drug dealer arrested in 4-month investigation

He said the days of looking for a little contraband and a weapon or two are over.

“We are not talking grams or ounces anymore like we used to in the old days, we are talking pounds of heroin and fentanyl and cocaine. The fentanyl and heroin are two of the big ones that are causing the overdoses daily,” Hackney said.

He pointed to two drug busts that involved seizures of a large amount of weapons and drugs in the past six months. A father and son team, Jose Alfredo Guel Sr., 51, and Jose Alfredo Guel Jr., 26, were each arrested on Jan. 27 on two charges of trafficking in drugs and two charges of possession of drugs. Jose Guel Jr. was arrested on two additional charges of having weapons while under disability.

Over two-and-a-half kilos of cocaine, over two-and-a-half kilos of heroin, over 10 pounds of marijuana and approximately $67,000 in cash, two guns and four vehicles were seized during the serving of search warrants at three locations in Hamilton.

Last September, an accused high-ranking drug dealer, Jonathan Ingram, 55, along with his girlfriend Lauren Watts, 29, were arrested after a months-long investigation led to the seizure of 1.3 kilograms of cocaine, five guns and nearly $20,000 in cash.

Sgt. Brian Robinson of the Hamilton Police Department said the BURN task force and the teamwork of the agencies involved has been critical in making a difference in the war against drugs and the drug dealers.

“We joined the BURN unit at the beginning of last year,” he said. “This allows us to be focused here on a local neighborhood level. We have our NPS (Neighborhood Policing Section), which focuses on neighborhood issues and works with local initiatives such as ‘No Drugs Today,’ ‘The Golden Ticket Program’ and the 17 Strong neighborhood initiative. Belonging to the BURN allows us to focus 99 percent of our in-house resources on assisting with and helping our local neighborhood issues.”

The BURN unit, which was started in 2009, is a countywide effort and is now made up of the sheriff’s office, adult probation office, and police departments from Oxford, Fairfield, Hamilton and Middletown.

“BURN can pool resources on a countywide level, meaning more personnel and other resources are readily available when they are needed,” Robinson said. “What we see is that the bigger drug dealers’ span of operation normally spiderwebs out into multiple jurisdictions. Having resources now throughout the county allows a greater ability in connecting those dots, which translates into bigger success stories such as what we saw this past weekend.”

Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw told the Journal-News after his department joined the BURN effort last March that the combined effort would help battle a growing drug problem.

“Our Special Investigations Drug Unit will not lose any staffing with this change. We actually will be stronger now,” Muterspaw said, after the department joined BURN. “This is a crucial time in our city for this because now we will not only have our own drug unit, but ties to two others regionally to combat drug trafficking in Middletown. Being in two counties and directly in the middle of I-75 puts us at a disadvantage. This opens major doors for us in a big way.”

Hackney said the task force is designed to function just like Robinson and Muterspaw explained. 

“By being a part of the unit, they have one person assigned to our offices. Just the flow of communications is important as the officers act as the liaison back to their home agency and we combine the efforts on search warrants and individual cases,” he said. “Just due to financial reasons or manpower reasons we’ve had some agencies come and go — West Chester, the city of Monroe and Fairfield Twp. — but we hope to get our numbers back up.”

BURN is affiliated with the Ohio Task Force Commander’s Association (OTFCA), which works with Ohio law enforcement agencies to target the flow of illegal drugs and organized criminal activity into Ohio communities.

“With all of the task forces throughout the state, there is networking,” Hackney said. “We all intertwine our information. Specifically breaking it down into the quadrants around Ohio, so all of us here in the southwest area try to stay in communication with each other and share information.”

The effort to get drugs and drug dealers off the street is a daunting task, but Hackney said it is a team effort and the law enforcement agencies are sharing resources to make it happen.

“I’ve got one of my guys in the county assigned to the Cincinnati DEA office,” he said.”So, not only do we host being a task force agency, we’ve also got a task force officer assigned to a federal agency.”

MORE: MORE DETAILS: Why Saturday was a big day for drug enforcement in Butler County

MORE: Fairfield residents share stories of heroin’s impact during drug forum

MORE: Hamilton police get money to fight opioids

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