OGDEN -- Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force numbers are down this year, in some cases considerably, in the wake of the Jan. 4 shootout that left four agents wounded and one dead.
Completion of the force's 2011 annual report was somewhat delayed as the result of the death of Officer Jared Francom and the months of rehabilitation of the wounded officers.
The unit's undercover component was essentially cut in half the night of the gun battle as the strike force agents served a search warrant at the home of Matthew Stewart.
Stewart now faces the death penalty as he continues recovering in jail from the bullet wounds suffered in the exchange with officers.
The 18-page, 2011 annual report counts 664 strike force arrests, 112 search warrants served and an overall haul of drugs totaling $3.7 million in street value.
From Jan. 1 to July 31 of this year, the unit made 147 arrests and served 23 search warrants, said Strike Force Commander Lt. Troy Burnett. The combined street value of drugs seized will be calculated at the end of the year, he said.
"The impact is pretty significant when so many of your officers are injured," said Ogden Police Chief Mike Ashment, who served as the strike force commander for several years beginning in 2002. He sits on the strike force board, and his agency provides most of its manpower.
"They were left with a skeleton crew of two or three people working undercover cases. ... I'm not going to say no one else is doing undercover work, but that is the strike force's focus."
The remaining agents, Ashment said, "are still living though the incident. It's certainly going to have an impact."
But Ashment and others said only a few months saw the strike force with fewer officers growing out their hair, sprouting beards and sporting earrings to infiltrate drug communities, plus supervising informants and wiretaps.
While other agencies filled in by taking reports and following up on daily street-level complaints, they said, the gap in agents groomed, so to speak, for undercover work was harder to fill.
"The undercover aspect was certainly lighter than it has been," said Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson. "You can't just fill in on that work. That takes a little more time to develop."
Thompson is also on the strike force board and, like Ashment, is a former undercover officer. His strike force designate, Sgt. Nate Hutchinson, was the last among those wounded on Jan. 4 to return to work.
As a supervisor, Hutchinson is not considered an undercover officer.
"For a brief time, the strike force wasn't operating as it has historically, but narcotics investigations were still going on," said Weber County Attorney Dee Smith, who, with Deputy County Attorney Branden Miles, oversees the strike force, filing their court cases.
"No question it had an impact on the strike force numbers," Smith said of Jan. 4. But as far as less pressure on criminals, he said, there was "nothing noticeable."
Thompson agrees. "I don't think the criminal community ever thought, 'Woo-hoo, free rein to openly sell drugs.' There's no indication of that."
And now, Burnett said of his agents, "We're back to full duty, and they're still strong and committed. There's been no burnout."
Agent Kasey Burrell, an Ogden officer and one of those injured Jan. 4, moved to the Ogden department's gang unit in May, a rotation that had been planned before the shootings, officials said
After five years at the helm, Darin Parke stepped down as strike force field commander last month to become interim chief of the South Ogden Police Department, his home agency. He replaces the retiring Val Shupe.
Various police departments contribute manpower to the strike force, paying the officers' salaries during their time as narcotics agents.
Most are from the Ogden Police Department, which founded the strike force in the mid-1980s.
"That one event was pretty traumatic for our unit," Parke said of the Jan. 4 shootout.
"We've been in a rebuilding phase since, but our guys were still showing up for work. They still stood up and took care of the public."
The public doesn't always hear about what undercover officers accomplish because the work is confidential, Parke said.
It's also very rare for the undercover officers to testify, given that most drug cases don't go to trial, he said. But if they did have to take the stand in open court, they'd have to deal with concerns regarding their blown cover, he said.
Parke is enthusiastic about the numbers accumulated since he left, particularly with methamphetamine seizures on a pace with last year's.
"With what took place in January, those are great numbers," he said. "This may sound funny to say, but that's good news. They're getting the ball rolling again."
In 2007, Parke was the first strike force field commander named from outside the Ogden Police Department. Officials said his rotation out, like Burrell's, was discussed before Jan. 4 as he leaves as head of the strike force after one of the longest tenures.
"And most successful," Burnett said. "And most traumatic."
Strike force caseloads easily doubled under Parke's leadership, said Burnett, who served as one of Parke's sergeants.
Weber-Morgan unit a glance
Figures from 2012 are as of July 27. Note: 1 pound is equal to 454 grams.
* CASES: 734 in 2011; 269 in 2012
* ARRESTS: 664 in 2011; 147 in 2012
* SEARCH WARRANTS: 112 in 2011; 23 in 2012
* GUNS: 124 in 2011; 38 in 2012
* METH: 34 pounds in 2011; 21.8 pounds in 2012
* COCAINE: 1 pound in 2011; 1.17 pounds in 2012
* CRACK (smokable cocaine) : 137 grams in 2011; 113 grams in 2012
* HEROIN: 2.13 pounds in 2011; 189 grams in 2012
* MARIJUANA: 23 pounds in 2011; 13 pounds in 2012
TOTAL STREET VALUE of seized drugs: $3.7 million in 2011; to be calculated at the end of 2012
Source: Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force