Thirty-six officers were sworn in Tuesday for a newly formed statewide narcotics team that will focus on dismantling drug cartels in South Carolina.
SLED chief Reggie Lloyd says drug activity has moved into rural South Carolina from Atlanta and is now operating in smaller cells.
A Special Investigations Unit had been organized by SLED more than a year ago, but Major Roger Heaton said if they were going to have a significant impact on violent crime it required more investigative agents become involved.
Heaton said they didn’t have the staff or the budget.
… but we identified a group of very, very talented local investigators, both at the municipal and the county level, and we approached them about the idea that if we form a state task force, a joint enforcement team, would you be interested. And we initially had eight agencies that came on board, and said absolutely and that they embrace the idea and they would love to participate in it.
Heaton was given the job to formalize the task force, and do it without incurring any cost.
We identified some JAG grant dollars and that allowed us to buy a badge that would identify these team members as state officers working on a joint enforcement team, credentials and a credential case. And, again, we used JAG dollars to purchase that.
Heaton says that members of this special unit have across-the-state jurisdiction as “now that city officer doesn’t have to stop at some imaginary line. His or her arrest powers continue right on as long as the individual stays in the state of South Carolina.”
Currently there are several Upstate agencies taking part. Those successes have prompted a more universal plan across the state. SC dropped from number one to number three per capita according to FBI crime statistics. Heaton says while the state is headed in the right direction, it’s going to take a lot of hard work:
There’s still a lot of violent crime in the state of South Carolina. And it’s going to take identifying these trafficking organizations. It seems that when you do a poll around the state and you ask what’s the biggest problem you have, the sheriffs and the chiefs are absolutely in unison telling us that our biggest problem is going to be narcotics trafficking and the crime that’s associated with it.
There’s no cost to the county or the city, nor any cost to SLED because they’re utilizing the agents that work within the JET team programs. Heaton says drug “stash” houses, where drug dealers warehouse cash and large quantities of drugs are in residential neighborhoods.
Heaton says these are neighborhoods “where your kids are out riding their bikes up and down the streets…and the neighbors are just like they’re in shock and awe, ‘my goodness, I didn’t even know that was going on here.’ ”
That’s where the people who have family members who are addicted to these drugs, and that brings on a whole different host of social issues that as a law enforcement officer, I don’t deal with it every day, but we certainly see it every day in the people that we arrest, people that become our informants, people that basically provide us the information that helps us dismantle these organizations.