WINSTON COUNTY - Federal funding of $1.5 million secured by U.S. Congressman Robert Aderholt for drug task forces in the Fourth Congressional District means Winston County has formed the first drug task force in 12 years.
Aderholt (R-Haleyville) announced in 2009 he was able to secure the $1.5 million for the counties of Winston, Walker, Pickens, Morgan, Marion, Marshall, Etowah, DeKalb and Blount. The funding was included in the Fiscal Year 2010 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Bill that passed the House of Representatives 259-157.
Funds in the initiative will be used to aid drug task forces to work specifically toward investigating and busting meth labs, cleaning up illegal lab sites, investigating trafficking routes, training and purchasing equipment.
“Methamphetamines remain a very serious problem for the state of Alabama,” Aderholt said. “This funding will provide local law enforcement the necessary equipment and training to successfully win this important fight.”
The county received approval of the task force funding when the Winston County Commission voted by majority to establish the task force at a recent meeting. The first full day of the county’s new task force was Monday, May 23.
Wes Brown, narcotics investigation officer for the Winston County Sheriff’s Office, noted the county’s portion of the $1.5 million is $94,000, which would go toward salaries of two officers from the sheriff’s office working the task force as well as toward equipment.
Winston County was one of the nine counties to receive the funding in sight of these being areas of higher meth problems, Brown said.
The newly developed drug task force will replace the former task force which dissolved 12 years ago. That task force had been administered through the Winston County District Attorney’s office.
The new drug task force will be administered by Brown and an assistant agent, focusing their attention strictly on combatting the county’s drug problem.
When a sheriff’s deputy makes a drug related case and the initial arrest (depending on the case), the drug task force will take the case to a much deeper level, investigating into much more specifics, even tracing the drugs to the source.
If an individual municipality within the county makes a drug related case, they have the option of working their own case or being assisted by the drug task force, according to Brown. The drug task force will be targeting the unincorporated portions of Winston County, he added.
“Previously, there was no one assigned to narcotics prior to Rick (Harris) taking over as sheriff,” said Brown. The transition resulted in deputies being assigned to work drug investigations. Due to these deputies’ other duties at the office, this did not prove to be productive, said Brown.
“In the past, where there wasn’t time, equipment and money to put into the drug investigation that would have led to several arrests, now we have more of that ability to put time into drug investigations that will lead to more drug arrests and more drug seizures.”
Drug investigators have more of an investigative tool than in the past due to N-Plex, a 21 state data base that keeps track of all pseudo-ephedrine purchases. When a pseudo-ephedrine purchase is made, the name and information of the purchaser is automatically placed in the system.
Wes said he is proud the grant is supplying two agents to devote their energy and efforts toward drug cases.
“Basically, we want to show there is a need for this,” said Brown,“that narcotics have gone unchecked in a lot of areas in Winston County. With all these municipalities and all these officers, they’ve done the best they could do, but we want to be able to add to their resources and be able to help them.
“For the most part, the unincorporated areas of Winston County have been untouched of unchecked in drug activity.
“Our total focus will be narcotics in Winston County.”
It is hopeful that one investigation begun through the drug task force will lead to solving at least three to four other drug cases, Brown indicated.
Those who may know of possible drug related activity in their area, please contact the Winston County sheriff’s office at (205) 489-2115. Although callers can remain anonymous, they are encouraged to give as much information as possible, such as possible names, license tag numbers, description of address of the location in question.
The fiscal year Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Bill provides the annual funding for several federal departments, including U.S. Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, NASA and other agencies.