Law enforcement officers are often the first responders to a suspected meth lab. They are responsible for the initial dismantling of the lab and the criminal investigation that will lead to criminal charges. These officers are specially trained and equipped, and must meet state and federal safety, environmental and health requirements in the handling of hazardous materials commonly found at these sites. Clan lab certified investigators must wear chemically protective clothing, gloves and respirators while handling these materials. Very precise procedures are followed when sampling chemicals for evidentiary purposes. The goal is the safe handling of toxic lab materials while ensuring that evidence needed to prosecute violations of the law are successful. All materials remaining at the lab site after the investigation is complete are removed by a federally approved contractor and disposed of in a safe manner, at an average cost of $5,000 per lab.
First responders are also responsible for the care and well-being of children found at the scene of a meth lab. Law enforcement officers coordinate with Child Protective Services (CPS) personnel throughout the state to ensure that these children receive appropriate and immediate care, as well as long-term follow-up and placement. Law Enforcement also files child endangerment charges against endangering adults when appropriate. Close coordination and communication with CPS can help the officer carry out these responsibilities.
To minimize trauma to children and ensure consistency between the CPS and criminal investigations, CPS workers and law enforcement officers should jointly interview children found living at clandestine meth lab sites and children known to have been present during meth lab operation. Neighbors and witnesses should also be interviewed. Officers must document any present or potential danger, assess the level of danger and the likelihood of harm, and assess any intentional aspects of endangerment. The clothing and other belongings of children found at meth labs may be saved as evidence and tested for chemical contamination.
To prove child endangerment, law enforcement officers must use photographs, diagrams, and careful descriptions to document children’s physical injuries or access to dangers. Photographs, diagrams, and careful descriptions also are critical in documenting the proximity of the methamphetamine laboratory and its hazards (such as booby traps, weapons, exposed wiring, chemical contaminants, waste products, and other unsafe matter) to the areas where children live, play, and sleep All materials must be filed in a timely manner for both the CPS and criminal proceedings to progress. The testimony of investigating officers and results from the forensic chemists’ findings will be required to prove child endangerment. Their descriptions must be specific to codified rules of evidence.
Click on the following links to learn more about
Florida Law Enforcement efforts relating to Drug Endangered Children
www.fdle.state.fl.us or www.usdoj.gov/dea