Wednesday, June 1, 2005
Agent: Drug task force is badly undermanned
By LEE WILLIAMS
As Fayette County Drug Suppression Task Force supervisor Capt. Mike Pruitt barged into a home during a raid in Clayton County, he shuddered as he read the words plastered across a drug dealers chest.
Clayton County is Ours. Fayettes Next, the t-shirt read.
Pruitt tried to brush the words off, but the words still haunt him.
Pruitt knows about recent problems that have surfaced among the 42 drug gangs in neighboring Clayton and fears that the problems will spill over to Fayette.
The bustling county of Fayette is under siege and he wonders if his five-man task force is enough to take on the onslaught of drugs invading the county.
Weighing the number of unanswered drug calls against the discouraging statistics from the Fayette County District Attorneys office, the Fayette County Juvenile Court and law enforcement from Tyrone, Fayetteville and Peachtree City police departments, and the Fayette County Sheriffs Department, Pruitt knows the answer.
He knows his team is out-manned and outgunned and its going to take help from the Fayette County Commission to improve his lot.
Weve had five agents every since the sheriff started the task force in 1989, he said.
Agents work an average of 12 to 14 hours a day and rarely get days off.
The problem weve run into is weve got complaints coming in from the citizens that we cant get to, Pruitt said. Give me the people I need to keep it off our streets and keep it away from our kids.
In May, the county commission rejected a request for two additional deputies on the task force, and Pruitt said he has a problem with that.
My issue is with the county commissioners, Pruitt said. I need more people to help keep this out of our community and they wont give it to me.
A recent phone poll conducted by The Citizen showed the task force is anemic compared to neighboring counties.
Clayton County Drug Task Force has 25 agents. The Griffin/Spalding Drug Task Force has 22 agents, and the Coweta County Sheriff Department has 13 agents.
According to Pruitts operating manual, the task force is operating unsafely. To compensate for the manpower shortage, Pruitt said he often calls in the sheriffs department SWAT team to do entries for search warrants. This causes the sheriffs department to spend more money for overtime, he added.
Agent Lt. Jody Thomas agrees operating at current staffing levels is unsafe and he hopes they get the manpower they need before its too late.
Its putting our guys on the line, Thomas said. Its like the much-needed traffic light that doesnt get put up until somebody gets killed. Thats my fear.
Thomas and Pruitt wonder why the county commission is ignoring their request for help.
The workload has increased tenfold. The dangers of the job has increased tenfold, Thomas, a family man said. What I want to know is if something happens to me is [Commission Chairman] Greg Dunn going to take care of my family.
Capt. Tony Brown, who heads the Coweta County Drug Task Force, also believes the Fayette task force is operating unsafely with five men.
Five people is enough to do investigations, but when it comes to kicking the door in, five aint enough people because youre risking folks lives, Brown said.
But Dunn rejects assertions that the task force is undermanned. If it is, Dunn said Fayette County Sheriff Randall Johnson can simply move people around.
They have enough assets to do their job and thats our estimation of it, Dunn said. If they have problems, they should reassess some spots.
Dunn said the sheriffs department has dozens of employees and Sheriff Johnson can move people around wherever he sees fit.
Hes got 200 people, Dunn said. Maybe [Pruitt] needs to talk to the sheriff.
Pruitt said deputies at the sheriffs department work in specialized divisions and cannot simply be moved around at a moments notice.
He indicated Dunns assertions are simply a smokescreen to avoid the real issue that they dont want to give the task force the manpower it needs. He is asking for the citizens help in their fight for more manpower. He said the task force needs to operate safely.
He said everyone who attended a recent methamphetamine awareness conference in Peachtree City agreed Fayette County has a drug problem. The county commission did not attend, but two former drug offenders did.
We need the citizens to get on board and ask them why arent they committed to fighting this drug problem because if you dont you better get ready to move because youre going to be like Clayton County with 42 gangs running around.
Copyright 2004-Fayette Publishing, Inc.