Pubdate: Sun, 21 Apr 2002
Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)
Copyright: 2002 Chattanooga Publishing Co.
Author: Kimberly Greuter


Last week, 45 law officers from East Tennessee, North Georgia and Alabama 
completed training that taught them how to secure and dismantle the highly 
toxic methamphetamine labs they encounter in the region.

The training at the Hamilton County Sheriff's Annex was paid for through 
the Southeast Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force, which has been in 
existence for three years and covers 18 counties. Task force funding 
allowed the training to be held locally instead of in Quantico, Va., said 
Ben Scott, resident agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration 
office in Chattanooga.

With the 45 officers who graduated, there are about 80 officers in the area 
certified to process the seizure and dismantling of meth labs, Agent Scott 
said. The officers attended a weeklong training session in which they 
received clothes, equipment and instruments to safely enter and dismantle a 

"The labs are everywhere, so the more people we have certified, the quicker 
the response," Agent Scott said.

He said law enforcement agencies that do not have a certified officer to 
dismantle a meth lab have to contact other agencies and wait for them to 
send personnel.

U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., who helped secure the federal grant for the 
task force and was at Friday's graduation ceremony, called methamphetamine 
"a cancer from within."

"This methamphetamine threat is a major threat that destroys lives and 
breaks apart families," he said.

Officials said they are making strides in the fight against 
methamphetamine, but the battle isn't won yet.

"The local law enforcement people see promise because of the efforts," said 
Russ Dedrick, first assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of 
Tennessee. "We think there's been a significant drop. It might be a little 
too early to say for sure."

The meth task force started out as a collaboration of local law enforcement 
agencies seeking to share resources in the battle against meth, Mr. Dedrick 
said. A $1 million annual grant was secured, and officials have applied for 
money for next year to continue the task force.

"The heart and the key is the spirit of the state, local and federal 
agencies working together," Mr. Dedrick said.

Officials said the number of lab seizures has declined, but meth 
manufacturing is still a major problem in the area, especially in rural 
counties. Agent Scott said labs still are being located daily.

"It's one of those things that's ingrained in a lot of communities, and 
it's easy to make," he said. "You put one or two in jail, and their buddies 
pick up where they left off."

There were 400 labs in Tennessee taken down in the last year, 75 percent of 
which were dismantled by the task force, Mr. Dedrick said. More than 200 
federal indictments related to methamphetamine were filed in Eastern 
Tennessee in the last fiscal year.

Officials also are turning to the public to educate them on the warning 
signs that someone is using meth or may be purchasing large quantities of 
materials to make the drug.

"People normally scared to share information are coming forward," said 
Meigs County Sheriff Walter Hickman, who had the first officer in his 
department certified in last week's training.
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