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Swinging back on the next street over, Crockett begins tapping on the cruiser's computer, looking to see which patrol cars are available in the area. A lot of meth cooks keep an ear pressed to the police channels through a smartphone app, so Crockett arranges for backup without his radio, shooting over computer messages or calling officers' cell phones instead. He never Lone Rangers an approach on a potential lab; you can't be sure how many people are inside, or how much a meth binge has singed their common sense.
Meth investigations aren't like regular narcotics work, where police try to climb the rungs of the distribution ladder to the top. The modern cook has decentralized production; instead of organized dealers, they make the drug for their own fix with a small group of friends, then sell off the extra. The whole scene is a self-contained ecosystem. Everyone knows each other; they share recipes, invite each other over to cook, or "smurf" for one another — street shorthand for when a cook pays someone $40 to go buy a $7 box of pills in order to duck the state-mandated system that tracks purchases.
Tug on the loose threads from one meth lab, and you'll probably find yourself in the middle of another one. That's how Crockett originally got into the work. While on patrol in 2002, he uncovered a lab in an apartment on a house call. He didn't even know what he had at the time, but watched with interest as trained officers cleaned the site. Almost without even trying, he was given the scoop on a related lab. The next one led to more, and Crockett joined CLET soon after.
Today, each bust shakes loose more tips, mainly because Crockett chooses to deal with each suspect as a person, not just a perp. "I don't just arrest them and send them off on their way and consider them a piece of shit," he says. "I interview them and I get information, or I help them out."
Usually, those facing charges will gift-wrap info for him. Cuffed in the backseat of the cruiser, they'll cough up half-remembered street names. When he's at a gas station for coffee, someone will randomly stop him with an address. People phone the station with hazy past associations — a patchwork of out-of-focus data Crockett stitches into a roadmap of the local meth scene.
And though officers and users alike know his name and his reputation, Crockett steadily bats off any praise. "It's not about that for me."
Behind the wheel of the cruiser, Crockett is still rounding up officers when the radio squawks in a call about a new lab on the other side of town.
"This is just funny," he says, steering toward the second address. "It just never stops."
When it's time to pay a call on a suspected meth house, Crockett doesn't shout or kick in doors. He simply knocks. Members of the CLET unit arrive without warrants, so if the homeowner boots them off the porch, they're gone.
But usually, after Crockett politely explains why he's there, he'll get permission to search. Even if the cracked door emits waves of fresh chemical fumes, or Crockett finds himself talking to an obvious user — bleached skin, nerves chewed from lack of sleep, mouth constantly spitting out disjointed talk through ragged teeth — he usually gets the green light. Only a step or two into the doorway, his nose picks up the traces of a cook.
One of the oddest — and saddest, any way you cut it — aspects of meth use is how often their knocks are answered by familiar faces. Like hamsters who can't jump from the wheel, meth users keep at it. Although the drug itself is neck and neck with heroin as the most physically addictive street substance, many cooks are just as fixated on manufacturing it.
"We've had cooks tell us they get as high making it as using it," Simcox says. They've seen the process backfire on cooks, the flames requiring skin grafs and rehab, only to later find them back at it again. In April, they arrested a man for the third time in three months; each time he was released on bond to await trial, and each time he went back to cooking.
"They take pride with it," Simcox says. "'Look what I made, look what I did. I've got the best dope in town.'"
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