D'IBERVILLE, MS (WLOX) - They are the front line forces in the ongoing war against drugs. On Tuesday, dozens of street level law enforcement officers began three days of intense training.
Law enforcers are learning the latest ways to stay one step ahead of the drug dealers.
Much of the training deals with meth, which the Drug Enforcement Administration calls "the most dangerous drug problem of small town America."
Statistics in South Mississippi certainly support that statement. Harrison County narcotics officers busted three more meth labs Monday, bringing the year-to-date total to 80 labs, already a dozen more than last year.
"If you turn on your flashlight, if you turn on a power switch, the whole room can ignite. So we have an explosive environment," instructor Tracy Sparshott told the roomful of police officers.
Sparshott is a retired detective from Montgomery County, Maryland who's worked undercover narcotics. He now trains officers about investigative techniques and staying safe.
"When we talk about 'super labs' we're talking about people who are building ten pounds or more," Sparshott told the group of law enforcers.
The surge of meth making in South Mississippi is something the Midwest began seeing several years ago.
"And the reason being is we've had access to cocaine, the cocaine availability. Now, they're finding they can make the drug themselves. They don't have to deal with smugglers. They can do it all themselves in the kitchen with simple pre-cursing chemicals they can buy over the counter," said Sparshott.
The resulting meth labs are a potential danger to entire communities.
"Not just for the suspects that are making the stuff. But the surrounding community, their neighbors," said D'Iberville police officer, Chris Roberts.
"The air can have carcinogens. It can be carcinogenic. Might not be sick today, might not be sick next week. Three months from now, you find out you have a tumor," said the instructor.
This training will better prepare these street level officers to face those drug dangers.
"They're our first line of defense. They've got to be able to recognize, identify these drugs, know the harmful effects of them, so they can protect themselves and the citizens," said Harrison County supervisor Windy Swetman.
A training event like this would normally cost about $300 per officer. And with 70 officers, that totals $21,000. But thanks to a federal grant, this training is free.
"What we're able to do is save those dollars in the local budgets within police departments, which ultimately will allow those departments to spend those dollars on other things, such as personnel and equipment," said supervisor Swetman.
Agents with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics have made 763 meth arrests so far this year and seized 298 meth labs.
That compares with 635 arrests and 237 lab seizures all of last year.