It’s been almost a year since Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and Columbus Police Department formed the combined drug task force of Lowndes deputies and Columbus police officers to crack down on drug crimes in the county.
Since then, the nine-member task force has leveled 312 separate drug charges and made 270 arrests in 252 felony cases, said unit commander LCSO Capt. Archie Williams — all while aiding criminal investigations in the city.
“I believe it’s going really well,” Williams said. “I believe we’re doing a lot in the community, both the county and the city.”
While Williams’ force had worked within the city before — county deputies have jurisdiction within city limits — that ramped up this year as the task force not only trained city officers but began working more closely with CPD’s Criminal Investigation Division. In the last few months, task force members have helped monitor surveillance and execute search warrants in investigations into violent crimes in the city.
“We (used to) end up in the city limits on investigations a lot,” Williams said. “Of course we did, but when you add more guys and you go from four to seven now, you have a lot more manpower to where you can put people where you need them and you can take investigations even farther.”
A previous combined task force between county and city law enforcement ended in 2012 over a hiring disagreement between former CPD Chief Selvain McQueen and Sheriff Mike Arledge. The drug task force remained a county-only operation until January when city and county authorities decided to revamp the task force.
The force is now made up of four county deputies, three CPD officers and one officer employed by LCSO but assigned to the U.S. Marshals. Williams and Arledge head the task force, which will be fully manned when CPD assigns one more officer. Williams said the task force has added CPD officers gradually over the last year so as not to have to train too many new narcotics agents at one time.
It makes sense for the task force to work on criminal investigations, said Williams, even those which don’t heavily involve drugs. Narcotics officers rely on informants, who can relay information on violent crimes just as easily as drug crimes.
“Of course, when you take care of the drugs, you take care of a lot of other crimes,” Williams said.
Drug addicts often commit property crimes such as burglary or shoplifting to feed drug habits, CPD Assistant Chief Fred Shelton said. When drug-related crimes fall off, those other crimes tend decline also.
Shelton said the city’s partnership with the task force has worked out in CPD’s favor.
“We’re seeing a reduction in street-level narcotic complaints,” he said.
He estimates that reduction has been about 10 percent from previous years.
All the while, the task force’s priority is still drug cases.
The most common of those cases involve ice methamphetamine, Williams said — though he’s seen three or four heroin cases and even some ecstasy here and there.
“We see (ice) on a daily basis,” Williams said. “After that, I would say … pills, which would be your opioids and things — your Adderalls and your oxycontins and things like that, Lortabs. And then after that would be cocaine.”
This list doesn’t include marijuana, he added, which his agents see small amounts of on a regular basis.
Going forward, Williams said he hopes to have the fourth and final CPD officer chosen and added to the task force within the next four months or so.
“We look forward to getting to where we can add our fourth person from the police department and keep going like we’re going,” Williams said.