Lauderdale County, Miss.
The war on drugs in east Mississippi took a major hit this month. With reduction in funding from the federal government to the state and from the state to local law enforcement, the East Mississippi Drug Task Force has had to reduce its numbers from eleven agents to just four.
"With the city not having any organized narcotics investigations and our efforts being reduced from eleven agents down to four, it's going to be tough times for narcotic investigations here in the Meridian/Lauderdale County area," said Sheriff Billy Sollie.
With steady flow of crime in Meridian, drug dealers being left on the streets could lead to even high rates of crime with more drug related crimes occurring, according to Sollie.
"Drug related crimes such as larceny, thefts, burglaries, car thefts, all those are going to increase with the increase in sales of narcotics and illegal drugs in our community," Sollie said. "So this is a warning to the general public; things have been bad in the past but now with the reduced efforts things could get much worse."
If that weren't enough, Sollie also says that dealers often target youth, which could also become a problem as a result of reduced agents out there removing street level dealers.
"I definitely think that with less agents, less people being indicted, less people being removed from the street, we're going to have more dealers out there contacting our youth getting them to try that first pill or take that first smoke," the sheriff said.
Sollie says that despite having fewer agents the task force intends to focus more on the distributors that sell to the dealers as opposed to going after the low level street dealers.
Of the seven-agent reduction, two have been moved to county patrol duty and another to the county jail. One is now active duty military. Meridian's three agents are also assigned elsewhere with the city.
The East Mississippi Drug Task Force started in 1992. At various times it has included the city of Meridian, Clarke County Sheriff's Department, and Kemper County Sheriff's Department, as well as Lauderdale County. Now Lauderdale County is the only local staffing and funding source.