Drug task force sees increase in arrests, investigations

By BRAD GASKINS/Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA — The Shelby County Drug Task Force made 112 arrests during the first quarter of the new fiscal year.

That’s 43 more arrests than it made during the same period a year ago.

The task force also conducted 66 more new investigations and obtained 19 more warrants from October through December 2010 than it did during that same span in 2009.

Task force commander Lt. Chris George said a more aggressive approach is responsible for the increases.

“If we get information that there’s illegal activity, we’re going to act and we’re going to act aggressively,” George said. “We don’t wait around. If we get information, we’re knocking on doors, we’re contacting informants, and we want to know if the tip is legitimate or if it’s false. We’re not going to sit on it.”

The task force conducted 216 new investigations from October to December 2010. In addition to the 112 arrests, it also obtained 156 warrants.

November 2010 was the busiest month of the first quarter, with more new investigations at 89, arrests at 46 and warrants obtained at 66 than in October or December.

While prescription drug abuse and marijuana continue to cause concern, George said it’s the “big three” drugs — cocaine, meth and heroin — that have the most negative impact on the county.

The negative impact comes not only for those who ingest the drugs, but also because of the money involved in transactions.

“There’s big money involved in buying and selling heroin, cocaine and meth,” George said. “When you get big money involved then you bring in the violence, and that’s what we’re trying to prevent.”

The increases in investigations, arrests and warrants obtained came despite a decrease in the task force’s budget.

The task force had a budget of $475,000 for fiscal year 2009-2010. It began the new fiscal year Oct. 1 with a budget of $269,000.

George said he’s been asked numerous times if the budget cut would impact the task force’s ability to operate as it did the previous year.

“I think the proof is in the pudding,” George said. “This is with a cut budget and we’re still seeing an increase in numbers. ”

The task force consists of 11 sworn law enforcement officers: two supervisors and three deputies from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, three officers from the Alabaster Police Department and one officer each from the Harpersville, Helena and Pelham police departments.

In addition, the task force has an operations assistant and one member of the Alabama Air National Guard, a first sergeant who is a counter-drug intelligence agent.

The public is the task force’s primary source for information, George said.

“We are very appreciative of the public’s concern and the public’s response to illegal drug activity,” he said. “It’s not just us out there. Everybody is fighting this.”