Local agencies discuss drug suppression tactics

Rockmart Police Chief Randy Turner listens during a meeting of Polk County law enforcement agencies on Thursday, Sept. 30.

New, specialized efforts at targeting known residences in Polk County where illegal drugs are being sold are in the early planning stages, but local law enforcement agencies are battling with staffing and training deficiencies.

Those themes were voiced by chiefs from the county police and city departments at a meeting with county officials last week, the second meeting of its kind to discuss new drug suppression programs and tactics.

County Commission Chair Hal Floyd and commissioner Scotty Tillery have requested the meetings with an idea of instituting a program where officers target a house or residence where drugs are being sold.

The preliminary idea is to have officers sit across the street or near the residences as well as other tactics that would lead to the drug dealers leaving the area and, eventually, the county.

But the concern voiced by department chiefs last week was how many officers would the program take off of regular patrol in a time when none of the police agencies in the county are fully staffed.

Rockmart Police Chief Randy Turner brought up increased training as a way to not only boost department morale, but also make sure that any drug arrests that are made have proper cases and are brought to justice.

He said it will require all local law enforcement agencies to get creative.

“We’re wanting to grow. We’re wanting to do all these other special things. That’s great. But we kind of put the cart before the horse because we haven’t developed what we’ve got yet,” Turner said. “We have to invest in what we have right now or we’re going to lose them.”

Tillery said the county is willing to go into its reserves to fund any overtime or extra equipment needed in order for the program to succeed. He said that Polk County has had 18 deaths from drug overdoses so far this year and wants to try and put something in place to solve the problem.

“We didn’t get to this point overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight,” Tillery said. “But I feel like if we don’t start working on something now then we never will.”

Rockmart Assistant Chief Jonathan Fuller, who is also commander of the intra-agency Polk County Drug Task Force, said he has worked from the beginning to increase knowledge and training among county officers to make sure they are equipped with the knowledge to assist the task force with drug cases.

“I believe that we have people that are willing. They’re chomping at the bit. I feel like if you show them the way and pay attention to them ... We’re seeing tangible results. Will it stay that way? I will do everything in my power to keep it that way. I promise you,” Fuller said.

On Friday, the DTF released data on its activities through the first eight months of the year.

During that time, the DTF made 59 arrests and executed 39 search warrants. A total of seven vehicles, 23 firearms and $16,749 dollars were seized. Officers conducted 491 surveillance operations, made 38 controlled purchases, and had 135 agency assists. The DTF reports that the auction of seized vehicles resulted in $43,500 dollars.

“We have successfully bridged a large gap between the departments (police) and the task force,” the task force said in a statement with the data. “We still have work to do, but we are working better than ever with local departments. We have dedicated time and effort to educating officers and deputies about drug cases.”

Jack Browning, district attorney for the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit, said he felt increasing police presence in communities and around trouble areas could be a good deterrent for drug activity, but it would require investment from each local government.

“It comes down to manpower,” Turner said. “The way we staff our agencies hasn’t changed in years. And it’s based on population and calls for service ... What that gives you is enough to do the job right now. That doesn’t give you enough to be proactive. It gives you enough to be responsive, react. If you only look at the population and the calls for service, you’re a reactive agency, and that’s all you can do.”

Police chiefs were asked to talk further with each other prior to meeting again near the end of October.

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