ST. LOUIS - Savvy homebuyers and residents have long taken it upon themselves to do a little amateur sleuthing by checking on crime rates, quality of schools and even searching the Internet to see if a sex offender lives in the neighborhood.
Now, a law enforcement agency outside St. Louis is providing a new piece of information for the public, identifying where it's finding materials linked to illegal methamphetamine production.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, which has a national reputation for strong efforts to combat the illegal drug, has started listing addresses where it has seized evidence tied to meth production on its Web site. The county has one of the worst meth problems in the U.S.
Capt. Ralph Brown with the department said, "We keep raising the bar on awareness. You either do something about it, or you stick your head in the sand."
The new online postings list addresses where the department has seized a meth lab or found discarded materials indicating the past presence of a clandestine drug lab in 2007 or 2008.
The Web site doesn't provide details about what happened at each address, but Brown said if residents have questions, the department will try to provide additional information if it can by law. He said the public is also welcome to call in tips to the Sheriff's Department if they have information to share.
Real estate agent Phyllis Alexander, who sells homes in the area, said many buyers are drawn to Jefferson County because they can get a lot of house for their dollar and like the school districts in the region.
Alexander already provides a list of Web sites people can check for more information about their potential neighborhoods and said the new tool could help provide more information to a homeowner.
Usually, the region's meth reputation doesn't come into play for people looking to buy a home. For instance, she said she'd never shown a house with any known ties to meth production.
But, she said, if law enforcement has enough information to post about a possible meth lab, "Hopefully, they got rid of it," she said.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol did not know of any other counties in the state that listed similar information tied to meth lab seizures.
Sgt. Jason Clark, spokesman for the Division of Drug and Crime Control, said Missouri leads the nation in meth lab incidents - which includes seizing labs and finding dump sites and equipment for making meth.
Missouri has recorded 770 meth lab incidents for the first six months of this year and Jefferson County has the most in Missouri, with 108 in that time period.
Clark also explained that an address for a meth lab can be hard to pin down. "Honestly, meth labs can be made in the back of a van,"he said. "They can be made in a hotel room."
Brown said Jefferson County had taken into consideration that meth lab dump sites might have no correlation to meth making activity in its online postings.
For instance, if materials were dumped in the front yard of someone who clearly had no ties to meth production, the address either would not be published or a more general address, like the intersection or block number, would be listed, he said.