Apparently, members of Clay County law enforcement have been waging war on mind-altering substances for quite a while.
Clay County Sheriff's Department Sheriff Mike Heaton, Chief Deputy Rob Gambill and various other law enforcement agents -- who will remain unidentified because they are actively involved in drug investigations -- agreed to speak with The Brazil Times about residents' concerns that drugs have invaded their community.
Gambill, who has been nationally recognized for his work as a drug detective with the department, started at the CCSD in 1989, while Heaton, who has also worked on drug investigations, joined the department in 1995. As fathers and citizens in the community, they understand residents' concern about multiple drug arrests in the past few years.
"Drug cases can take a long time to develop all the information necessary for successful prosecution. But there are those cases -- when everything comes together at just the right time -- and we're able to take someone off the streets right away," Heaton said. "We choose to attack drugs more actively than other departments. There's a problem, that's obvious, but we're taking the fight to the streets."
The fight against illegal drugs started before Heaton and Gambill joined the force.
With a recorded history of use dating back thousands of years, marijuana was criminalized in the United States in 1937.
The herbal plant, also known as Cannabis, is an illegal psychoactive drug containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While many drugs easily fall into a category of stimulant, depressant or hallucinogen, marijuana exhibits a mixture of all these properties.
People using marijuana experience short-term physical and neurological effects, including an increased heart rate, lowered blood pressure, impairment of coordination skills and difficulty concentrating due to short-term and/or working memory.
In 2004, The United Nations released a report estimating 4 percent of the world's adult population (approximately 162 million people) use marijuana/cannabis annually, with 0.6 percent (22.5 million) using it on a daily basis.
Those individuals using Weed, Pot, Buddha or Bud, Mary Jane, Grass, Herb, Dope, Schwag and the nostalgic 1930s pseudonym of Reefer, have been in the area longer than law enforcement officials can remember.
"There have always been drugs here on some level," Gambill said. "But it was only a small core group of people who were using back then."
However, law enforcement did take notice when motorcycle clubs of the late 1960s-early 1970s helped bring harder drugs -- like heroin, cocaine and crank, an early form of amphetamine and a derivative of methamphetamine -- to the area.
"At that time, there was a stigma attached to drug use that kept many people from experimenting with drugs," Gambill said. "So the drug problem remained in that core group for a long time."
Although most people don't think about it, alcohol/drug abuse and misuse remains a major problem on the roadways.
Operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OVWI) is not just a charge for motorists under the influence of alcohol anymore. A driver can be under the influence of any number of illegal substances that impairs their ability to properly operate a motor vehicle.
The CCSD provided arrest records from 2003-08 that indicate the charge of OVWI has alternated with petition to revoke probation (PRP) and possession of marijuana as the top three charges filed against suspects booked into the jail facility during the previous six years.
The only exception took place in 2008, when OVWI was first, possession of marijuana was second with PRP was third.
In 2009, records indicate the top three charges were probation violation, OVWI and possession of marijuana, respectively.
Although the statistics have yet to be confirmed for the slightly more than 1,000 arrests in 2010, Heaton said he believes the preliminary data will show charges for criminal activity involving methamphetamine and controlled substances are moving their way into the top 10.
Building a drug case
According to officials, there is a definite difference between suspicion of criminal activity and an actual probable cause affidavit that allows authorities to get a search/arrest warrant for a person believed involved in criminal activity.
"Many times, people think that just because 'everyone knows' something is going on, (law enforcement) should be able to enter a residence and make a search," Clay County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Rob Gambill recently told The Brazil Times. "It doesn't work that way. We have to have actual evidence of current or very recent drug activity in order to make a search."
Although some television programs show a criminal case being concluded in an hour, it takes a while longer in the real world of justice.
"These drug cases are very time consuming, but we won't cut corners," Gambill said. "Many drug offenders can afford to go out and hire the best attorney that money can buy. And if we make one small mistake, our whole case falls apart. That is why we spend so much time making sure everything is done right."
Evidence in building a criminal case can include any or all of the following elements:
* Verifying the initial tip/report casework,
* Hours of surveillance/investigation,
* The organization and execution of the subsequent arrest/search warrant raid,
* The initial arrest, questioning of a suspect and subsequent paperwork and other man hours necessary for ongoing investigation, and
* The numerous legal proceedings and testimony involved in a jury/ bench trial.
The process can take anywhere from a few days or months of undercover operations for each element before enough evidence is collected to present for formal charges to be filed against a suspect.
"We take our time and perform a thorough investigation, so, when we file a case, it has a great chance or resulting in a conviction. We don't want to waste our resources and the taxpayer's money by quickly putting together a case that has very little chance of success," Clay County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Rob Gambill told The Brazil Times. "Building a solid drug case is a lot like building a house. You must have a good foundation to build on or the whole thing will fall apart."