01/12/2006

Atlanta: Drug busts reach all-time high in 2005

JOHN GHIRARDINI

Copyright 2006 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 

Gwinnett law enforcement had a record year in taking illegal drugs off the county's streets in 2005, police said Wednesday.

The county's Multi-Agency Drug Task Force last year seized illegal substances with a street value of more than $34 million, more than a threefold jump from $9.5 million in 2004.

The task force's total charges filed rose to 1,475 from 1,314 in 2004. "They count charges, not bodies," District Attorney Danny Porter said Wednesday.

The total includes charges resulting from traffic stops all the way to large trafficking cases, he said.

The task force's drug seizures included 119 kilograms of cocaine. Police spokesmen were unable to document how much methamphetamine, marijuana and other drugs were confiscated.

However, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration statistics, methamphetamine seizures continue to rise both in Georgia and nationwide. The latest DEA figures show nearly 1,818 kilos of meth were seized nationwide during the first nine months of 2005.

"We have seen a trend over the last two or three years where the volume of methamphetamine seizures has significantly increased," said Ruth Porter Whipple, spokeswoman for the Atlanta Field Division of the DEA.

The Atlanta office is responsible for drug enforcement efforts in Georgia, the Carolinas and Tennessee.

Imported meth from Mexico or from "superlabs" on the West Coast "affects the entire metro area," Whipple said.

Of the more than 30 percent increase in county drug cases in 2005, "the vast majority were meth cases," Porter said.

The task force's record year can be attributed to several factors, said Darren Moloney, Gwinnett police spokesman.

First, he said, a greater emphasis was placed on using information from the confidential drug tip hotline, 770-962-NARC (770-962-6272).

"The theory here is that residents are the first to notice when something is suspicious in their neighborhood," Moloney said.

The task force also concentrated last year on coordinating its efforts with those of other local, state and federal agencies.

"We get more work done and we do better work when we work together," Moloney said. "The cases are stronger when we all work together."

Task force commander Maj. Bart Hulsey credited cooperation from the public and the long and sometimes irregular hours put in by his troops for the record seizures.

Metro Atlanta's status as a major hub in the U.S. market also played a role.

"Whether a person is dealing in coffee tables or crack cocaine, metro Atlanta provides tremendous opportunities for transport and marketing," Moloney said.

The task force is composed of personnel from the police departments of Gwinnett County, Lawrenceville, Lilburn, Norcross, Snellville and Suwanee, as well as the Gwinnett district attorney's office.

The task force was formed as part of a campaign promise from Porter when he ran for district attorney in 1994.

The membership varies from year to year, Porter said, but "it gives us one drug enforcement agency for the entire county." 
 
January 12, 2006

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