The Bay Area Narcotics Enforcement Team is known in some circles for its drug-related arrests at Central Michigan University and other northern portions of the state.
Referred to as BAYANET, the enforcement team consists of three multi-jurisdictional street-level drug enforcement teams, one mid-to-upper-level conspiracy team and houses the Third District Fugitive Team, according to the BAYANET website.
Stephen Sipes, section commander of BAYANET, said there are two main offices within the department with the North Team that cover Isabella, Clare and Gladwin counties along with the Saginaw team working the Bay, Midland and Saginaw counties.
“What we are after is the disruption of the drug organizations who sell and distribute narcotics,” Sipes said. “Ultimately, our goal is to get several levels above the street-level deal.”
Sipes said the goal to arrest middle to upper-level distributors is difficult, since the lower-level people are higher in numbers and easier to target.
“We arrest more people at the lower level with the intentions of getting to the upper and middle levels of the drug distribution that is going on,” Sipes said. “Not everybody who we arrest at the lower level can go up into the organization any further.”
BAYANET has been in operation since 1981, with the teams monitoring drug trafficking in Bay, Clare, Gladwin, Isabella, Midland and Saginaw counties.
Over the years, the narcotic task force has received come under heat for instances of allegedly harsh treatment toward people involved in drug-related offenses.
At 62-years-old, Weidman resident James Janetski has had first hand experience with BAYANET.
Janetski has been blind for half of his life and has repeatedly fought colorectal cancer, as well as a recent diagnosis of congestive heart failure. In his first encounter with BAYANET in 2005, his property in Midland was taken from him for growing too many marijuana plants.
Although he was using the marijuana for medicinal purposes, he did not become legally qualified to grow it until after the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act was passed in 2008.
“I’m not going to deny I did sell some (marijuana), but they still could have handled my case differently,” Janetski said. “They can get misguided, being too hard on drugs. (BAYANET is) not solving anything; they are just causing more problems.”
BAYANET officials appeared on Janetski’s doorstep and forced their way into his home without a warrant, he said. Upon entering the house, officers had to wait for the warrant to come through.
“Next thing I know, they are in my house, and their idea was they were invited in, and that was not the case,” Janetski said. “It was my word against theirs, but they still should have had a warrant.”
After being busted, Janetski was taken to jail, but not until four months after being caught, he said.
He lived in maximum security in Midland County Jail for the next seven and a half months. The second time he was arrested, in 2007, he spent five months behind bars before being released early due to medical complications, he said.
“I haven’t seen my home since I had gotten busted seven years ago, and I don’t know if my spirit could handle it,” Janetski said. “I would be a big puddle of tears.”
One way BAYANET gathers information is through confidential informants, who provide police departments with inside information regarding drug dealers in the area, Sipes said.
Although some of the CIs are students who have been charged with a crime and are working to mitigate their charges, many are people who have never been in trouble with the law and are pitching in to help.
Janetski said he knew which CI reported him to BAYANET. However, he does not hold anything against them, he said.
“Sometimes, you have to do anything to protect yourself,” Janetski said. “I cannot blame them for that.”
Janetski was held on a $600,000 bond, he said; the third-highest bond release in Midland County at the time. Due to the forfeiture law regarding drugs, all of Janetski’s property was seized during his first arrest, and a friend’s vehicle, as a well as a portion of a neighbor’s land, were sought after, he said.
Mount Pleasant attorney William Shirley has dealt with several cases between BAYANET and Central Michigan University students.
Shirley said there is a lack of continuity from the drug task force, as new officers are cycled in by promotion through the ranks. Despite how they find drugs, Shirley said he understands what the task force means to the city of Mount Pleasant.
“They do pressure people; however, BAYANET does a good job and (its services) are vital to the community,” he said.
Shirley said BAYANET can be a bit of a bluff, because the prosecuting attorney makes the final decision regarding the punishment of students who have been caught, not BAYANET. The only thing the officers can do is offer recommendations for cooperating students.
Fifteen years ago, Mount Pleasant Public Information Officer Jeff Thompson was a part of BAYANET and remembers how important the team is to fighting narcotics within the community.
“Our team took just as many complaints and arrests as Saginaw’s team,” Thompson said. “They should have been shooting fish in a barrel.”
In 2012, BAYANET recorded 702 arrest counts from the 362 suspects arrested in drug-related crimes, with many of the suspects attaining more than one offense. In Isabella County, 143 arrests were made, compared to 120 in Saginaw, Sipes said via email.
Since the spring of 2003, the CMU Police Department has participated in the North Team of BAYANET.
Funding received from BAYANET is used to hire a new officer to replace the veteran police officer assigned to the drug team.
Many other drug task forces, such as the Flint Area Narcotics Group, are scattered across the state. CMU is the only university working with BAYANET.
“CMU is the only public university police department on the BAYANET team,” Sipes said. “Although we have Saginaw Valley State University in our area, they do not participate with supplying manpower to BAYANET.”
Thompson said BAYANET is not exclusively centered on making busts but is focused on getting the people involved with narcotics the help they need.
“It’s not all about arresting people for drugs,” Thompson said. “Somebody needs to address and find those deals.”
A former CMU student and CI who asked to remain anonymous said his experience working with BAYANET was nerve-racking. He said he was given an ultimatum of either finding six drug dealers or risking being kicked out of CMU and going to jail.
“The very first time I did a deal for BAYANET, they pulled me off to the side, and I had to sign a liability waiver saying that I was willing to put my life in danger and that those guys were not responsible for anything that happened to me,” he said.
He said he would do anything to avoid getting in trouble, even if that meant incriminating an innocent person.
Every time a CI completes a bust, they are required to report the incident to an officer who takes notes and formulates a police report to be presented to the judge hearing the case, the source said.
The former CI said it was not uncommon for students serving as CIs to abuse their power, because the CI simply uses marked bills to purchase drugs while detectives wait outside for the deal to be completed.
“I manipulated the system 12 times before I was done,” he said. “During a deal, there are plenty of opportunities to go off the beaten path. All (the detectives) did was stay in their car. I had to make sure I had a deal lined up for when they called so I didn’t go to jail, (but) all the CI has to know to convict an individual is their first and last name, as well as where they live.”
Even if the CI uses his or her power to get drugs for personal use, the CI’s claim will be favored over the person convicted. The former CI said the problem does not lie with BAYANET officials but with the system used and how it is implemented.
“It’s not that I think BAYANET is not doing their job, it’s how they’re doing their job,” the former CI said. “The way they go about it could be done better.”