Law enforcement officials have voted to disband the East Metro Drug Enforcement Team after 17 years of fighting the war on drugs.
The task force consisted of investigators from Covington, Newton County, Conyers and Rockdale County.
Covington Chief of Police Stacey Cotton said several factors led to the move, including a cut in funding, a change in mission and the growth of the two counties involved in the program.
"The team served us well for years, but with the increased population, we decided we could better investigate in our own areas," Cotton said.
In 1990, when EMDET was first formed, the group was issued a grant of $225,600 from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, which was disseminated through the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. In the late 1990s, that figure had increased to over $300,000, said EMDET Commander Lt. Philip Bradford.
But in recent years, Cotton said, the grant had been cut as money began to be shifted from the war on drugs to
Homeland Security and the war on terror. EMDET's last grant of $177,000 was not enough to operate effectively, Cotton said.
Greg Shy, president of Newton Reads and a community activist, said it was a shame the government did not think local communities were worth more.
"That's politics though," Shy said. "It's bad that we don't have the funds to fight what's going on right here in our own area. With the population growth up and the crime rate up, we need help more than ever."
Guidelines of the grant also stipulated the money only be used for drug investigations, which was becoming more of an issue for the agency. Cotton said EMDT's investigations often uncovered other crimes which the unit could not follow and had to be turned over to other local agencies.
EMDET board of directors members Cotton, Newton County Sheriff Joe Nichols, Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington, Conyers Chief of Police David Cathcart, Newton County District Attorney Ken Wynne and Rockdale County District Attorney Richard Read attended the press conference to announce the decision. Cotton said the board voted in July to shut down the narcotics unit.
"I think we're closing one chapter but opening another," Cotton said. "This is taking it to the next step."
That next step will be the formation of two new units.
The Covington Police Department and the Newton County Sheriff's Office have formed a yet to be named undercover unit which will focus on drugs as well as gangs, organized crime and prostitution.
"We are very exited to move forward with this new unit and to be able to cover things we haven't been able to cover before," said Bradford, the unit's commander.
The unit will consist of six agents initially, but more could be added as necessary. The agents have already been selected and should begin investigations soon, Bradford said.
"I really appreciate the opportunity by the board to lead this unit," Bradford said.
EMDET used mostly undercover work and confidential informants in their investigations; a trend which Bradford said will carry over into the new unit's bag of tools.
"We'll be used for any special investigation that might require undercover work," Bradford said.
The Rockdale County Sheriff's Office and the Conyers Police Department will also form a similar task force, Wigington said
Despite the separation of the two units, Cotton said a strong relationship still remained.
"Just because we are going to do our own thing, it doesn't mean we won't have a relationship with Rockdale and Conyers," he said. "We recognize that the bad guys don't pay attention to jurisdiction."
At its heighth, the EMDET employed agents from not only Newton County, Covington, Rockdale County and Conyers, but also from Walton County, Butts County, Loganville and Monroe, Cotton said. Agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and National Guard were also posted to the unit.
Wigington said the unit was viewed for a long time by agencies in the state as a model organization, but the agency had run its course.
In its 17 year existence, the EMDET handled 2,724 cases while employing 68 agents and 585 confidential informants.