Businessman George Zapata has lived in Berwick the last 16 years and doesn't like what he's seen lately. "All of a sudden you see this influx, you see an influx of meth labs and the drugs... drug busts, drug arrests and it's definitely something that you're like, wow," he said. Others in Berwick feel the same way. "Every time we turn around there's something else in the news about another house busted," said Sherrie Krebs.
A late October attempted robbery investigation led police to a suspected meth lab on Monroe Street. It came the same week police stopped a mobile meth operation on Summerhill Avenue-- adding to an alarming increase in meth arrests since last year. In 2011, Berwick police broke up two meth making operations. Since that time for either a growing meth problem or better law enforcement, police have shut down more than a dozen meth labs -- including one at Chestnut Street and Summerhill Avenue. A meth lab fire at that apartment building in May chased tenants from all four units. It's not the only meth lab raided near the Krebs family home. "Three houses real close to us that you wouldn't think of in a residential area but it's here," said Mrs. Krebs. When asked how it makes her feel knowing that meth making is in her midst she replied, "Scared. Especially as a parent with kids. It's really scary."
The meth problem is a worry as well for Mr. Zapata who owns Georgie Bagels on West Front Street. "It scares me because my son is going to grow up here. My son is going to be here, you know, and where do you go? You know, what do you do?" For Berwick Police, it meant stepping up enforcement since Strish became chief in June. He formed a three-member special operations group. His department is also working closely with state police, the Columbia County D-A's office, the Columbia County Drug Task Force and even the state attorney general's office. "We've been doing a lot more work down in Berwick and Columbia County area, you know, for the past few months," said John Soprano who is Regional Director of the PA Office of Attorney General Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control.
Chief Strish says even with so many resources, he still needs his community's eyes and ears to win the fight against meth. "We have a lot of knowledge coming in based on many different things. The problem is though we're not there next to that one specific drug house on an everyday basis like the neighbor would be." With increased confidential tips, Chief Strish has a message for meth lab operators. "We're going to be able to shut them down quicker than they can imagine.
Berwick Police Department has just established a confidential information email account. It's firstname.lastname@example.org. Chief Strish hopes it leads to more tips from the public in the fight against meth.