Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local News

June 11, 2011

Citizens want drug task force

AMERICUS — Concerned citizens of the community met with Sumter County Administrator Lynn Taylor, Sumter County Board of Commissioners Chairman Randy Howard, Commissioner Al Hurley, Sumter County Sheriff Pete Smith, Americus Police Chief James Green, County attorney Bill NeSmith and Sumter Sheriff’s Maj. Joe Monts to discuss the need for a Drug Task Force in Sumter County.

Among concerned citizens were Garland Mears, Ralph Norton and several clergy of the community including George Monts, Jacob Battle, Don Hutchenson and Joe Horan.

Battle was first to address the meeting, expressing his concerns of drug dealers and users wreaking havoc on the community. He described an instance where a drug dealer set up shop next door to his store and dealers and users riding down the street at 50 mph.

“This is putting our children in danger. I talk to eight- and nine year-old children. They tell me they are smoking weed all day. Something is wrong here. We have a Sheriff’s Department and a Police Department. We need protection,” Battle said, explaining that he reported the drug house to authorities and was told there were no funds available to keep a handle on the massive drug problems the law enforcement agencies of Sumter County are experiencing on a day-to-day basis.

Battle said it was the second or third time they set up shop in the house beside his establishment. And according to the police chief, it won’t be the last time.

“They get out of jail, there are no jobs and no one will hire them,” said Green.

“We as a community need to support one another. If we don’t it won’t turn around; it will get worst,” said Green, explaining that many drug dealers and users are charged, sent to prison only to get released a few months later.

“Our prisons are full,” Green said, describing the job of sending a drug dealer or user to jail is difficult sometimes because the prisons are full.

The group also reflected on the fact there are no drug rehabs in the community where  drug users can detox and receive education on addictions.

Many members at the  meeting mentioned alcohol as being a chronic problem. Many users  in the community are taken to the local hospital or arrested and taken to jail; no detoxification process is available. There were also concerns of drug dealers being the cause of the majority of crimes committed in the county such as burglaries and theft.

“There have been so many thefts of metal, copper, just plain stealing,” said the sheriff.

Joe Monts described a few cases where his job becomes trying.

“I had a drug dealer arrested. He went to prison. The next month I pull up to a red light and there he sits driving the car next to me,” Monts said, also describing he pulled over someone a few weeks ago and was afraid he may lose his job because of who he was arresting.

Hutchenson spoke up and said the best solution is to preserve the community by taking a pro-active stance instead of a passive approach.

“We can not just push the problem away,” he said, explaining in order for a community to be prosperous and successful it must take an aggressive approach toward solving drug-related issues in the community.

Horan asked Taylor, and members of the Commissioners board what would be the actual cost to hire a drug task force and is there any flexibility in the budget?

Horan explained whenever there were problems in the church and the budget needed amending, they would use 2 percent of their budget to address a problem if needed, adding that avoiding the problem would not fly in his world.  Taylor was then asked by Horan what she expected the budget to be this year and she said an estimate of $17.8 million. Then Sheriff Smith was asked how much he needed for a drug task force. He said he would only need $90-100,000 to hire two to three officers and he had a vehicle already from a drug impoundment.

Taylor said the salaries alone would cost $100,000 not counting vehicles and other equipment. She later advised members of the meeting that the sheriff would need to submit a business plan to the Board of commissioners stating the salaries and equipment required to establish a task force and then a millage rate could be decided upon from that point.

Hutchenson brought up the subject of several fire stations belonging to the County which were empty and without personnel. Taylor started explaining why the fire stations were constructed. She said ISO standards had to be addressed and, basically, the fire stations were implemented because of insurance ratings.

Hutchenson responded, “There was a problem and you found a solution,” he said, referring  to the construction of the fire stations. “There is a problem in our community. It’s a drug problem. We need to find a solution,” he said. “Raising taxes was not the answer. Increasing the millage rate is not the answer. It is more a responsibility of spending funds,” he said, explaining he was a former firefighter and business man. He went on to express how business decisions are addressed in the parish.

“We make a decision of what is most important. And we ask ourselves what is our mission,” explaining his passion for Sumter County and how the community deserves to have drug problems addressed.

Sheriff Smith and Chief Green said they will continue to work together to protect the community; however, criminal activity is on the rise and there are not enough man power and funds to spread around.

“I know money is tight. We have to find some way to fund this. We owe it to our community and to our children, too,” Smith said.

Green said his people will continue to wake up every morning, serve their community, knowing they can not save the whole world, but maybe one person at a time.

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