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West Valley City Police Chief Brings Back Embattled Drug Unit

Whittney Evans
West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo at a press conference Friday.

West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo is ready to revive the departments defunct Neighborhood Narcotics Unit. But it’s a brand new crew of investigators with a new name and a new mission.

West Valley City Police Department’s new Vice Narcotics Unit will likely hit the streets this summer, tackling drug crimes, gambling and prostitution.  West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo says there is a need in the city for a focused group that deals with narcotics and vice violations, to track suppliers and distributors.

“That requires a certain level of expertise and understanding specific to the dynamic nature of narcotics investigations and that’s why I’ve chosen to put this unit back into operation,” Russo says.

Chief Russo says of the six detectives, one sergeant and one lieutenant, most are former patrol officers with no investigations experience. But the officers will go through several weeks of training including time with Federal Drug Enforcement Agency officials in Salt Lake City. 

“I want our team to be exposed to that, understand it and that be integrated into our operations,” Russo says.

The Neighborhood Narcotics Unit was disbanded in 2012 leaving drug arrests to patrol officers and other departments. An internal investigation into the narcotics unit found multiple problems, including mishandled evidence, missing drugs and guns.  

Russo says the unit will be fully operational in about eight months. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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