The Grady County Board of Commissioners, District Attorney Joe Mulholland, County Administrator Rusty Moye, Whigham Mayor Jimmie Laing and Whigham Police Chief Tony Black met with the Cairo City Council to discuss the possibility of establishing a local drug squad as the county considers opting out of the multicounty Southwest Georgia Drug Task Force. Grady County Sheriff Harry Young also attended the meeting, but arrived just after the drug squad discussion ended.
Commission Chairman Bobby Burns outlined the county’s position on the multicounty squad to members of the Cairo City Council and noted that the consensus of the board is to drop out of the current squad in which Mitchell County is a partner. Originally, the drug unit also included Baker County, but they have joined another drug squad.
“We’re here tonight to address a problem. The drug problem here is a concern for all of us and it affects us all. I’m pretty sure everyone here knows someone with a drug problem. The fight against drugs is a never ending battle and it may be a battle that cannot be won. However, we come tonight to see if there is interest with the city partnering with the county in the fight against drugs,” Chairman Burns said.
The majority of the SWGA Drug Task Force budget is funded through a federal grant and the remainder is made up by Mitchell and Grady counties, both of which invest $120,000 annually.
“We’ve never asked the city to participate in the multicounty drug squad, but if the city is interested, we would be looking at going in together 50-50 on a local drug squad,” Burns said.
Cairo City Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas voiced his opposition to city residents being double taxed should a local drug squad be formed by the city and county.
“This would be funded by tax dollars and the residents of the city are paying county taxes. If we (the city) contribute to this, city residents will be paying for it with both their city and county taxes. I have a problem with that,” Douglas said.
Mayor Richard VanLandingham asked how forfeitures would be split. He commented, “If we do 50-50 funding, we need to also split the forfeitures.”
Chairman Burns said that all of these issues would have to be part of the negotiation process between the two governments.
City Attorney Thomas L. Lehman quizzed D.A. Mulholland as to whether Decatur County has its own drug squad. Mulholland described the drug unit in Decatur as a “pseudo task force” with Bainbridge Public Safety officers and Decatur County Sheriff’s deputies both being assigned to drug enforcement.
The district attorney offered his assistance in setting up a local drug squad. He commented that the distribution of forfeitures could be handled in any way the city and county wished. Currently, all forfeitures go back to the SWGA Drug Task Force. According to Mulholland, forfeitures run approximately $30,000 to $40,000 annually.
Another question yet to be answered is how the vehicles and equipment purchased for use by the drug squad would be divided up.
Councilman Douglas said it was his understanding that Mitchell County Sheriff W.E. Bozeman did not cooperate with the drug squad and that has lead to its demise. Douglas asked Chairman Burns how that situation would be avoided with a local drug squad.
Burns told city officials that, in his opinion, the problems between the Mitchell County sheriff and the drug squad began when a drug squad operation was carried out in Mitchell County that the sheriff was not informed about.
“If the sheriff is kept informed, as I think he should be, I don’t see a conflict developing here,” Chairman Burns said.
For the past several years, the drug squad has been at odds with the Mitchell County sheriff. Recently, Sheriff Young resigned from the committee that oversees the drug squad, citing his concerns with the effectiveness of the drug squad as it is currently organized.
Mayor VanLandingham suggested that City Manager Chris Addleton and Cairo Police Chief Keith Sandefur work with County Administrator Moye, Sheriff Young and D.A. Mulholland to develop a proposed budget and bylaws to bring back to the county commission and city council for further review.
Whigham Mayor Laing asked that Whigham Chief Tony Black be included on the committee.
None of the councilmen objected to VanLandingham’s suggestion. However, Councilman Douglas stated, “I want to see what the costs will be, and I’m concerned about the double taxation issue.”
Both Grady County Sheriff Young and CPD Chief Sandefur are in favor of the establishment of a local drug squad.
“I’m all for the extra help, I’m shorthanded as it is. We already work with other agencies who need help and they help us out when we need it. I think our county will be better off having its own drug squad rather than four agents trying to work two counties,” Sheriff Young said.
Chief Sandefur agreed and commented, “Our community is like any other in the U.S. The citizens deserve the best and most qualified law enforcement possible.”
Sandefur says having local agents concentrating on illegal drug activities within the community will be more effective than the current multicounty squad.
“I’m hopeful this will work well,” the city police chief added.
This would not be the first time that the cities of Cairo, Whigham and Grady County banded together to establish a local drug squad.
Back in October 1988, an agreement was put in place by the Grady County Commission and the city councils of the cities of Cairo and Whigham to create the Grady Drug Control Committee, which was made up of two county commissioners, two Cairo city councilmen, and one Whigham city councilman. Both the Grady County sheriff and the Cairo police chief served as ex-officio members of the committee.
A captain was hired and served as the commander of the drug squad until it was disbanded in 1992. The beginning of the end for the local drug squad was the Cairo City Council’s action to end funding for the squad in January 1992.
The Grady County Board of Commissioners at the time voted to continue funding for the drug squad through June 1992, and the squad was disbanded on June 30, but the captain was to remain on the payroll through the end of the September term of Grady Superior Court in 1992.
Employees of the drug squad were officially county employees and they were governed by the personnel policies of the Grady County Board of Commissioners. The city of Cairo made space available at police headquarters for the operations of the drug squad.
When the drug squad was disbanded, the city and county were both budgeting $45,000 for the operation of the drug squad.
The city, on the recommendation of then Chief Jim Kelly, shifted its illegal drug law enforcement efforts to a special investigations unit that was composed of a special investigator and a secretary, who also assisted the department’s two regular criminal investigators. The original budget for the SIU was $47,576, of which $33,000 was the payroll to cover the special investigator and the secretary.