Revamped narcotics unit ramped up drug war in 2019

By JENNIFER COHRON
Posted 1/9/20

The county’s war on drugs entered a new era in 2019, as the Walker County Sheriff’s Office’s revamped narcotics unit racked up 721 drug-related arrests, 144 distribution cases and 16 trafficking cases.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Don't have an ID?


Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.

Non-subscribers

Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.

Revamped narcotics unit ramped up drug war in 2019

Posted

The county’s war on drugs entered a new era in 2019, as the Walker County Sheriff’s Office’s revamped narcotics unit racked up 721 drug-related arrests, 144 distribution cases and 16 trafficking cases.

The strategy for success was simple — more manpower, cooperation among local law enforcement agencies and adopting tactics that have proven successful in the past.

Since the Walker County Narcotics Enforcement Team shut down in January 2012 and was absorbed into the sheriff’s department, the responsibility of working on drug cases full-time had fallen on the shoulders of two investigators.

“During that time, there were clandestine meth labs, a few pill mill doctors pushing opiates and the rise of heroin use in Walker County. It’s pretty obvious why the county’s drug problem had worsened since the old Narcotics Enforcement Team shut down,” said Captain Ralph Williams, who leads the narcotics division.

After taking office, Sheriff Nick Smith increased the number of investigators in the narcotics unit from two to five.

Additional manpower came in the form of the new Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Force. Each municipal police department has at least one person assigned to the task force, although some departments sent more than one person on some of last year’s operations.

Because every operation does not require the use of the entire task force, members cooperate on operations that involve their communities and assist with all other operations in neighboring communities as needed.

“We’ve been so blessed with this Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Force that we haven’t needed any outside assistance. The (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) in Birmingham is still available to send as many people as we need, but the task force has been so successful that we haven’t had to reach out to them,” Williams said.

In addition, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office also provided aerial support on last year’s operations as needed and the Alabama Department of Corrections K-9 Tracking Unit stood ready to chase down anyone attempting to avoid arrest. However, not one person tried.

“Out of 53 search warrants, the SWAT team and raid team did such a good job getting control of the home and the property that not one person ran from us the entire year,” Williams said.

Besides manpower, narcotics investigators changed their tactics, forgoing the quarterly round-ups of the past and relying instead on the use of search warrants and buy-bust operations favored by the old NET unit. The latter put dealers in jail immediately after an undercover buy was made and put additional pressure on them because arrests were occurring on a weekly basis.

Increasing the number of search warrants resulted in larger drug seizures because investigators could search a suspect’s entire property rather than being confined to what was in plain sight.

In 2019, the narcotics unit seized 48.69 grams of heroin/fentanyl, 4.19 pounds of methamphetamine, 48.51 grams of crack cocaine, 5.85 grams of powder cocaine and one meth lab in addition to a number of other drugs and paraphernalia.

Though Smith did purchase new covert surveillance equipment and tracking equipment for the narcotics unit, the success of 2019 wasn’t a result of an influx of funding or adding new equipment; it was allocating the resources already available, especially staff, in a new way.

“The successes are attributed to the sheriff coming in with a plan, putting people in place to execute the plan and then making sure that his mission is carried out by his people,” Williams said.