Agencies Target I-20 Trafficking 

Agencies Target I-20 Trafficking 
Posted by FoM on December 20, 1999 at 08:39:37 PT
By Mark Mathis, Staff Writer 
Source: Augusta Chronicle
Hundreds of miles of interstate and Georgia and South Carolina highways make up the transportation backbone of the Augusta area, bringing commerce and tourism from surrounding states.
But on those same roads travel drug couriers either making local deliveries or just passing through.``We do see it as a problem because we have (Interstate 20) running through Columbia County,'' said Lt. Clay Smith, head of special operations for the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. ``While it's not as bad as I-95, it's there.''Lt. Smith and Lt. Robert Partain, head of Narcotics Investigation for the Richmond County Sheriff's Department, said they don't have numbers to back up an increase of drug shipments on I-20, but they do believe there is a strong presence.``My personal belief is there is a lot of drug trafficking between Atlanta and Columbia because you can take I-20 to Florence (S.C.) and head straight up I-95 to New York,'' Lt. Partain said.Statistics:Richmond County Sheriff's Department drug trafficking arrest statistics.1997 (1805 Total Drug Arrests)Cocaine -- 42Marijuana -- 2Methamphetamine -- 5Heroin -- 01998 (2112 Total Drug Arrests)Cocaine -- 40Marijuana -- 0Methamphetamine -- 2Heroin -- 21999 (1807 Total Drug Arrests through November)Cocaine -- 51Marijuana -- 0Methamphetamine -- 2Heroin -- 1Drug Arrests (all violations) in Aiken County by all law enforcement agencies1996 -- 5431997 -- 5701998 -- 719*Columbia County Sheriff's Office does not separate drug trafficking charges from regular drug arrests statistically, said Lt. Clay Smith, head of special operations. The overall drug arrests numbers have stayed ``around 500'' for 1997-1999, he said.Source: Richmond County Sheriff's Department and the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division. Capt. B.L. Oliver, head of Criminal Investigation for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, said that although he has not seen an increase in arrests on the interstate, that doesn't mean the problem is not there.With such a large area to cover in combating drug trafficking in the Augusta area, the law enforcement agencies in both South Carolina and Georgia pool their resources to make up for manpower or information-gathering shortcomings.``You periodically make contact with other agencies to gain any information that they may have that is relevant to our jurisdiction, and if we have something for them we pass that along,'' Capt. Oliver said.Drug trafficking is defined as any person carrying more than 50 pounds of marijuana or 28 grams of cocaine or methamphetamine. Trafficking charges for other drugs depend on weight.The sheriff's departments in Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties and other South Carolina and Georgia agencies depend on one another for physical support when it comes to staunching the flow of drugs.Aiken County Sheriff's Office periodically will assist the South Carolina Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation with checkpoints on I-20 exits and other roads. At these stops, licenses are checked on all drivers, and deputies might use drug dogs to look for evidence of drugs in any cars.``We have stepped up our effort as far as interdiction; however, we prefer that to remain under the control of the South Carolina Highway Patrol,'' Capt. Oliver said.Columbia County has six drug-detecting dogs in its narcotics investigation division; Richmond County has three; and Aiken County has two.Columbia County works with the Georgia State Patrol in creating similar checkpoints, Lt. Smith said.At established checkpoints and normal traffic stops, deputies of all law enforcement agencies pick up on the demeanor of drivers to determine whether they might be carrying drugs, Lt. Partain said.Excessive nervousness or agitation at traffic stops are tips that South Carolina Highway Patrol troopers look for as signs of a potential drug courier, said Sid Gaulden, spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.``Let's say the guy somebody stops has a headlight out, and you pull him over and he just flies off the handle,'' Mr. Gaulden said. ``It gives them pause to stop and think and maybe ask to look in the car.''Drug couriers, however, come from all walks of life and do not fit any particular mold, Lt. Partain said. Even if there was a particular look, method or style drug couriers have or use, it is illegal for an officer to stop or search a driver based on a profile.These couriers can make anywhere from $1,000 to 3,000 per trip, according to information from arrested traffickers, Lt. Partain said. Some traffickers also try to conceal or disguise the smell of drugs they are carrying in their vehicles, he said.``They try and take the drugs and mask them with some type of odor, whether it be fabric softener or coffee grounds or mustard or anything they think a narcotics dog will not detect,'' he said. ``I've seen many different things, but it's never worked.''False gas tanks in cars, shampoo bottles and body cavities are other hiding places used by traffickers, Lt. Partain said.Even though many drug busts come from random traffic stops, they are not the best way to fight narcotics trafficking, Capt. Oliver said.``They are an important and valuable tool, but every time we make a traffic stop doesn't mean we're going to interdict drugs,'' he said. ``It's going to take resources, more education, the whole gamut. It's going to take a well-educated, well-trained (officer) with the right tools and resources to make the right decisions and ask the right questions to make something happen.''The ability to stop traffickers requires patient and deliberate investigating or someone close to a drug courier turning him in, Lt. Smith said.``We've had some large-scale traffickers that have been doing it for years and years, and their downfall was the sources of information, whether it was an informant or an anonymous tip,'' he said. ``Unless we (have) that, it is hard to catch some traffickers sometimes.``Somebody is going to rat them out. It's just a matter of time. They can't be perfect every step of the way. Somewhere along the line, there is going to be a trail, and we'll be right there to pick it up.''Reach Mark Mathis at (706) 823-3227.Published: December 20, 1999 All contents ęcopyright The Augusta Chronicle. 
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Comment #1 posted by Chris Campbell on December 20, 1999 at 19:51:04 PT:
50 pounds?
"Drug trafficking is defined as any person carrying more than 50 pounds of marijuana or 28 grams of cocaine or methamphetamine. Trafficking charges for other drugs depend on weight."So if someone gets caught with 49 pounds of pot in the USA they will assume it's for personal use?Wouldn't a trafficking charge for cocaine and pot depend on weight as well based on that definition? Am I missing something here?
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