The Cleburne County Sheriff’s Office hopes to add a new drug investigator to its ranks to help fight its No. 1 category of crime, the sheriff said.
About 80 percent of the crimes his office deals with are drug or drug-related offenses, said Sheriff Joe Jacks. That number may be higher, added Chief Deputy Dennis Green.
People looking for drug money may steal to get it, the law enforcers said, perhaps by breaking into someone’s home or stealing from a family member. People high on drugs may become violent or get into accidents and hurt someone.
“That’s where our main concern is, is drugs,” Jacks said.
The two approached the Cleburne County Commission last week about adding a drug investigator to the department at a cost of about $47,000 per year. That would include a vehicle, equipment, salary and benefits, Green said Wednesday morning.
Currently the department has five deputies and three investigators — one drug investigator, one criminal investigator and one chief investigator, Jacks said. The current drug investigator, Lance Willingham, is doing a good job; he just needs help, Jacks said.
“He’s swamped,” Jacks said. “He’s got so much, he just can’t handle it all.”
Green, who is running unopposed for sheriff in November, expects to take over after Jacks’ retirement. He said with just one drug investigator, the other investigators pitch in whenever the drug investigator gets overloaded.
“I’ve been with him all morning gathering information for him,” Green said Wednesday.
The other investigators take time away from their own investigations to help him serve search warrants, he added.
With another drug investigator on board, the other investigators would have more time to work on their own investigations, Green said. It would also result in more drug cases getting attention. There are cases out there the investigator could be working if he had help, Jacks said.
Part of the problem in dealing with drug offenses is the lure of the crime, Jacks said. Many times, the deputies can arrest someone for a drug offense, either selling or possession, release them on bond and they will be arrested again before they have gone to court for the first offense. Dealing can be a lucrative business, and for the users the addiction is hard to fight, Jacks said.
“We have to catch ’em and try to get ’em help,” Jacks said.
Barry Matson, deputy director of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association and the Office of Prosecution Services, is the chairman of the Alabama Drug Abuse Task Force. Matson said dealing with drug offenses takes a three-pronged effort. It starts with comprehensive education and prevention, includes strong law enforcement and also access to long-term, effective treatment for addicts.
Right now, there are lots of treatment programs out there, but some are not effective, Matson said. The state has to identify effective programs and promote them, he said. Matson also said the treatment programs have to be accessible to everyone, not just those who have plenty of money.
Prevention education has to go beyond an hour-long program that shows kids pictures of addicts and has to be a campaign that really affects people’s behavior, Matson said. It also has to teach understanding.
“Everybody’s living with this,” Matson said. “We all know someone or are related to someone affected by drug addiction, but we don’t talk about it.”
Green said that when he was campaigning in the primary to be the Republican candidate for sheriff, the most common questions he heard were about what the office is doing about drugs. This is a first step, he said. Another step is to add a drug education program in the county schools, Green said. The extra manpower would also help make that a reality, he said.
County Administrator Steve Swafford said he’s not sure how the county would fund a new drug investigator.
“Before we talk about adding positions and programs, we’re already in a deficit budget,” Swafford said.
The county has lost between $150,000 and $200,000 in court costs because of fewer arrests on Interstate 20, which Swafford blames on the construction. In addition, capital projects including windows for the courthouse, which have been on the county’s wish list for three years, are now a need.
“The windows are in dismal condition,” Swafford said. “They are a threat not only to the structure, but to the people that work there and people who come into the courthouse.”
Staff Writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872 in Heflin, 256-235-3545 in Anniston. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.