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New task force looks to 'cripple drug traffickers'

Medford police and the Jackson County Sheriff's Department have teamed with state and federal agencies to form a task force to take on local gangs and drug-trafficking organizations throughout the county.

Medford police Chief Randy Schoen and Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters have merged their current drug and gang task forces into what is now called the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement Team, or MADGE.

The merger called for the two agencies to consolidate nearly $120,000 in federal grants used to monitor the flow of drugs coming into the county from Interstate 5.

"This is a fairly large task force that will cripple drug traffickers," Medford police Deputy Chief Tim George said. "We will seize their product and assets and hope to make it to where Jackson County will no longer be a good place for them to do business."

MADGE comprises 15 sworn officers from Medford police, the sheriff's office, Oregon State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and Jackson County Community Corrections.

"By teaming with federal agencies we have access to their resources that we can use to track drug organizations in other states that are working in our area," George said. "Also, penalties are enhanced when handled at the federal level."

MADGE has made its presence on the streets felt recently.

In November, the task force busted a man suspected of carrying 8 kilos of cocaine — with an estimated street value of $400,000 — at a Medford bus stop.

Last week, MADGE officers arrested a man allegedly carrying 400 tablets of ecstasy.

Officers from the various agencies will routinely hold briefings at Medford police headquarters.

Winters believes having the team based in the same building will help information pass between different agencies.

"They will have the opportunity to talk with each other about things they are working on, and get advice and help from others who have experience in drugs and gangs," Winters said. "You never know what valuable piece of info you can get from a routine meeting."

The team will be supervised by Medford police Lt. Tim Doney.

The sheriff's office will keep at least two deputies stationed at the Medford police headquarters at all times.

"We back each other up a lot, so this is nothing new to us," Winters said. "It will be beneficial to the people of Jackson County to have the area's two largest police forces working closely together."

In addition to the sworn officers, the team will have five police analysts assigned to help synthesize information for large-scale cases, George said.

The team has established a 24-hour tip line for people with information on drug and gang activity going on in their area. The MADGE phone number is 541-618-1TIP (1847).

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471 or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.