New task force fighting drug trade

Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks was among the Alabama law enforcement agency leaders who gathered at the state’s Capitol on January 11 for a ceremony honoring members of the recently created Alabama Drug Enforcement Task Force.

The ADETF currently comprises 47 member agencies and 75 Task Force Officers, including Atmore Police Department Investigator Ken Sessions. Each officer was officially sworn during the ceremony, although the seven regional task forces that make up the ADETF were established last October. Those city and county officers will work closely with the 25 ALEA drug agents assigned to the task force.

The law enforcement agencies that are part of the state task force share resources and intelligence aimed at accomplishing the group’s overall objective, the dismantling of drug trafficking organizations and fighting violent crime.

Along with the APD investigator, the regional task force — which covers Baldwin, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Mobile, Monroe and Washington counties — includes Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Deputies Mark Webb and Tyler Bagley, along with Jackson PD Detective Kevin Wright. Each has been deputized as an Alabama Law Enforcement Agency officer, with investigative and arrest powers wherever needed, throughout the state.

Gov. Kay Ivey said the time had come to do everything possible to disrupt the trade in illegal substances and prescription medicines that are being put onto the market.

“The illegal manufacturing, trafficking and sale of narcotics in Alabama is a problem for every part of the state and should be dealt with accordingly,” Ivey said.

“Through combined efforts and statewide cooperation, this new task force will allow local police, sheriff’s offices and district attorneys to work together with state police and investigators to remove more of this dangerous element from our communities.”

Atmore serves as the headquarters site for Region A. The city police chief is the president of the regional group’s board, while APD’s Samantha Bennett is the task force’s administrator.

Brooks said the formation of the task force also has a secondary mission — to get help for those who buy or sell controlled substances because of addiction.

“We’re trying to put a big dent in the drug trade,” he said. “The governor wants to aggressively work narcotics, and this is how she plans to do it. This program is taking a hard stance on narcotics, which affect individuals and families. It’s a great, great thing for this area. We’re going to do everything we can to not only get drugs off the streets, but to get treatment for those who are addicted to drugs.”

The new approach appears to be working.

During its first three months the task force reportedly opened 172 criminal investigations that resulted in 275 criminal charges and 99 arrests. ADEFT officers also have seized illegal drugs including opioids, heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines that have a collective street value of approximately $2.1 million. In addition, 98 firearms have been seized during various task force operations.

Total grants allocated for the project is approximately $1.35 million, with each of the regional task forces awarded $193,235. When the initial grant was distributed, only APD and MCSO were involved in Region A, and those two organizations split the money evenly. Jackson PD will begin receiving one-third of any future grants.

The APD chief said his officers and the other Region A task force members work hand-in-hand with the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other federal agencies.

“Because of that funding I’ve been able to purchase a vehicle for our investigator, as well as the equipment, supplies and fuel he needs, as well as any overtime he works,” said Brooks. “That in itself is a tremendous relief for the city, plus we have federal resources that go along with it.”

He added that not all drug addicts or dealers are technically bad people, but said they each must pay the price for their addiction or choice of career.

“Not everybody involved in drugs is a bad person,” Brooks said. “But it’s against the law and it affects everything. If somebody doesn’t have money for the drugs he or she needs, they’ll steal it. Our goal is to reduce that ripple effect.”