Washington County, Tennessee Sheriff Ed Graybeal says 98 percent of the cases his department handles involve drugs.
He’s not alone.
Which is why there’s concern surrounding the uncertain future of the Drug Task Force, (DTF) a group that tracks illegal drug activity across county lines.
First Judicial District Attorney Tony Clark told News Channel 11 in January, “All we’re going to do I think if DTF goes away, is it’s going to be a happy day for drug dealers.”
Now, 7 months later, that day is one step closer with the number of DTF agents covering Washington, Unicoi, Carter, and Johnson counties dwindling from four officers, to two, and now one.
As News Channel 11’s Kylie McGivern reports, our region’s DTF is hanging on by a thread, as law enforcement agencies work to come up with solutions.
“I’ve heard so many people say it’s a ‘war on drugs.’ Not for us. It’s an every day fight. WE FIGHT IT EVERY DAY in one respect or the other,” Sheriff Graybeal said.
Within the first judicial district’s DTF, a Washington County officer is the last man standing.
“Nobody that work drugs can handle it all by their self. There’s too much of it,” Sheriff Graybeal said.
That’s one officer to cover four counties. While each law enforcement agency typically has their own drug unit, they’re confined to cases only within their jurisdiction. DTF agents have the power to cross county lines.
Clark said the most recent DTF loss came from Unicoi County, the sheriff’s department struggling to retain officers in light of recent family health insurance cuts.
Clark said the agent,”was also a canine officer that was very useful in our stops, our drug cases. He (Sheriff Mike Hensley) had to pull him last week to replace him on the road with officers who had left because of the insurance problem they’re having in Unicoi. I got a letter from him last week.”UNICOI COUNTY SHERIFF LETTER TO DTF DIRECTOR
Despite budget cuts, Sheriff Graybeal remains hopeful.
“We still have a lot of agencies that budget-wise don’t have the means right now, but they’re all working on getting it.”
Clark said beyond the budget variables, the bottom line is simple.
“Without the help or aid of law-enforcement agencies, and especially bodies, I don’t see how DTF is going to exist. You just, you can’t run a DTF without people. Everybody can meet and discuss problems, but until you have people working the streets, working drug deals, you can’t have a DTF.”
Kylie: “How many DTF agents do you think should be in your district?”
Clark: “To have a functional DTF… I would say 6-8. And you have to have participation all of the agencies.”
Right now, law enforcement agencies can be a part of DTF and its meetings without actually committing an officer.
Clark, along with DTF, is working come up with other potential options. Right now, no one can be a part-time DTF agent because of liablity issues.
“We’ve tried to maybe change up the makeup of the DTF to allow certain members of particular drug units to work as DTF agents. So that’s something we’re looking at. Legislatively, there would have to be some changes,” Clark said.
There are seven law enforcement agencies in the first district.
“We have between 350 and 400 officers,” Clark said. “And there’s only one person dedicated out of all of those to work at DTF. To me, that’s hard to comprehend.”
“We will be at DTF until the board decides that DTF is no more,” Sheriff Graybeal said.
Clark told News Channel 11 DTF receives a federal grant of around $50,000 a year to cover the agent’s salary, personnel, building rent, etc. As long as the district has even one agent, that federal funding will continue.
“If we lost that grant, then I don’t see DTF ever gearing back up because that money helps sustain the DTF,” Clark said. “Once you lose federal money, in this day and time, you don’t get it back.”
Both Clark and Sheriff Graybeal said the Johnson City Police Department hopes to commit an officer to DTF by the end of the year.Copyright WJHL 2015. All rights reserved.