DTF is making dent

Published 8:16 pm Sunday, April 22, 2012

DTF agent Scott Walden examines narcotics seized during a recent drug bust. So far this year, DTF agents have been responsible for over 30 drug related arrests in the Atmore area.

Agents with the 21st Judicial Drug Task Force made a New Year’s resolution in 2012 and, so far, sticking to it has resulted in over 30 drug related arrests in the Atmore area.

DTF agents Scott Walden and Paige Howell said they are working towards a goal of 100 arrests in this calendar year and have already logged nearly half as many busts as they made in all of 2011.

“We’re at probably 50 percent of where we were this time last year,” Walden said.

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“This was a kind of New Year’s resolution type thing. To see if we could get more this year than we did last year,” Howell added.

Walden said the recent surge in arrests is getting the word out on the streets of Atmore that residents participating in drug-related activities are not going unnoticed. And most of the tips the DTF receive, he said, come from concerned citizens.

“The public calling it in is the biggest thing. About 60 percent of the time it’s someone who is just fed up with it or who wants to get off it.”

Only four months into the year, Walden and Howell said the willingness of the public to report suspicious behavior is taking its toll on drug dealers and users in and around Atmore.

“We’ve had 32 cases so far,” Howell said. “But in some cases, like the meth lab bust at a hotel recently, we had four arrests, so that number (arrests) is probably more like 35.”

And those 35 arrests, Walden said, have combined to take 46.6 grams of powdered cocaine, 11 grams of crack cocaine, a staggering 437.10

grams of marijuana, 32 prescription pills and a working meth lab off the streets of Atmore already this year.

With only a quarter of 2012 behind them, Walden and Howell said the resurgence in battling the ongoing problem will only increase over the coming months through consistent efforts to locate, arrest and prosecute offenders.

“We just want to keep increasing year after year after year,” Walden said. “We know that we’re never going to completely run it out of town. I tell people when I teach classes, drugs are like a big mountain and we’re like hammers. We’re chipping away at it. We’re never going to destroy the mountain, but if we can get more off the streets, that’s more kids that are coming up that we know won’t be involved in it.”

And right now, Walden said, children are being targeted more than ever by drug dealers.

“These drug dealers are looking for younger and younger people. The ones they were dealing to have either ended up in prison or in a graveyard, so they have to go to a younger clientele to make more money and they’ve got drugs out there marketed specifically for kids. They’re trying to get them roped in.”

While an array of illegal narcotics are currently presenting problems for law enforcement, Walden and Howell said methamphetamines are, by far, their biggest concern.

“The thing about meth is it doesn’t cost a whole lot to make,” Walden said. “It’s easy access and not just a certain clientele will do it. You’ve got doctors, dentists, just people you wouldn’t expect, doing methamphetamines.”

Walden said local pharmacies have been very helpful, calling in suspicious purchases, such as large amounts of Sudafed, a main ingredient in the manufacturing of meth. But with the ease with which the drug is made and the mobility factor for “labs,” Walden said the real key to eradicating the problem lies with the public.

“What people need to know is if you see any activity at all that seems suspicious to you, don’t hesitate to call us,” he said. “You don’t have to give your name, you don’t have to give your phone number.”

Walden said protecting the identity of people who provide information to them is a top priority for the DTF.

“If they want to give us their names, to give us further information, great. But that never leaves this office. In fact, after we’re done with a case, their names and numbers are destroyed.”

Walden and Howell said one of the key dangers of methamphetamines is that the “labs” used to manufacture the drug are both easily hidden and highly unstable, often leading to explosions. Key signs to watch for, they said, include heavier than normal traffic in and out of a residence or other area and odd smells like ammonia or rotting eggs, which is produced by the sulfur used in making the drug.

Walden and Howell said the public can expect to continue seeing the DTF out in force in Atmore, working to reduce the number of drugs on the streets, adding “This isn’t just an Atmore problem or a state problem. It’s everywhere. And we’re going to keep chipping away at that mountain.”