Meridian Star

Local News

June 20, 2014

City, county to partner again on drug task force

MERIDIAN —     Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said he is looking forward to once again partnering with the Meridian Police Department to reestablish a working relationship on the East Mississippi Drug Task Force.

    The 21-year-old partnership between Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department and the Meridian Police Department came to an end in October of last year after former police chief James Lee said the city could no longer afford to participate in the task force.

    Meridian Police Chief Benny Dubose announced Thursday that he plans renew the city, county partnership and will initially assign two officers to the task force, with the possibility of adding more in the future.

    "I am certainly pleased that we are going to have unity in the effort to identify and remove illegal contraband from our street corners and our neighborhoods," Sollie said of Dubose's announcement. "We are continuing our conversations with the city about what roles each of us will have in the future concerning funding of the operation, which consists of the housing of the agents, the utilities, funding used for drug buys, drug labs and analysis for the agents' purchases. So there are a lot financial burden that the county has held since last October when the department pulled out of the task force that we need to work out before moving further."

    The agreement between the city and county required that if either member wished to leave the task force, they would have to give a written notice, with a return receipt, at least 30 days prior to the proposed end of the agreement.

     "Technically, the partnership never ended between our two departments," Sollie said. "Lee never submitted the return receipt letter to the county asking to be removed from the task force, so technically the unit is still intact."

    The Sheriff's Department was hit with a double whammy when the city's officers were pulled from the task force, Sollie said.

    "The grant that assisted in the funding of our deputies was cut and then the former police chief pulled his personnel out so our manpower was almost reduced in half," Sollie said. "This meant we had fewer agents to do the undercover observations and undercover purchases. We also had much less funding to purchase the drugs from drug dealers. Prior to last October the city would put up $5,000 of money, which was used to buy up drugs, and then the county put up $5,000. It was a your-turn, our-turn situation that had been going on for almost a decade."

    Sollie said the money used by the city and county to purchase drugs in the undercover operations was not taxpayer's money, but money seized from offenders.     

    The Lauderdale Count Sheriff's Department has six agents and one administrative assistant assigned to the drug task force division. Sollie said he and Dubose met Thursday afternoon to discuss what exact resources and manpower the police department will provide.

    "He will make an announcement soon as to what he plans to do with resources and the number of personnel," Sollie said. "There will probably be an initial number the city gives with possible increases, but I believe Dubose's comments to the community will be positive."

    "I have always been a believer in the drug task force," Dubose said. "The sheriff's office has always been able to inform us of not only drug cases, but other major crime cases such as murders. They have always been more to us than drug officers."

    According to one report from the FBI, 85 percent of crimes are associated with drugs, Sollie said, adding that locally the use of crystal meth is on the rise.  

    Sollie said there are other drugs officers are concerned about.

    "One of the things we as law enforcement are fearing is from outside this jurisdiction there is an influx of heroin and that needs to be addressed before it becomes an epidemic around here also," Sollie said.  

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