Pubdate: Sat, 08 Feb 2003
Source: Times Daily (Florence, AL)
Copyright: 2003 Times Daily
Author: Mike Goens, Senior Editor


District Attorney: Plan Calls For Reorganization

FLORENCE - Lauderdale County Drug Task Force agents have been recalled by 
their sponsoring agencies in a reorganization move, authorities said Friday.

The move will, in effect, suspend task force operations for an unspecified 
period of time.

Task force board members hope the reorganization effort can be completed by 
the end of February.

"We plan to reformat the task force over the next several weeks," said 
Lauderdale County District Attorney Steve Graham, chairman of the task 
force's board of directors. "This is strictly a personnel action that we 
have decided was in the best interest of the task force at this time."

There are now four agents assigned to the task force. The appointments are 
made from the district attorney's office, sheriff's office, Florence police 
and the University of North Alabama police.

Florence police and the district attorney's office previously had two 
officers assigned to the task force, but each recalled an officer because 
of budget constraints.

Graham did not elaborate on the nature of the personnel issues.

The task force's offices were broken into in September, with more than 
$30,000 and a variety of drugs and case documents reportedly stolen. The 
organization's board of directors asked the Alabama Bureau of Investigation 
to handle the case. Sources say the investigation has expanded into other 
areas related to the task force.

Graham said Friday's decision is not linked to the investigation.

Florence Police Chief Rick Singleton said the investigation and 
reorganization are separate issues. However, he said the investigation has 
caused stress on task force members.

"Situations like we have with the break-in and our request for an 
investigation, it would put a lot of additional stress and tension on any 
organization or business," Singleton said. "That can lead to personnel 
issues, and that's what has occurred in this situation."

Graham said he has not been updated on the investigation and has not sought 

"I asked them to come in, and we're letting them do what they need to do," 
he said.

No one in the task force has been accused of wrongdoing, and no charges 
have been filed in connection with the burglary or other any other aspect 
of the investigation.

"We were in consensus among the board that the best thing is to recall our 
agents and regroup," Singleton said. "We do not anticipate this process to 
last long. There will be a task force."

Graham said the current agents will be allowed to apply for slots on the 
task force. Singleton said his representative will not be forced to apply, 

Florence police has a policy requiring officers working drug cases to 
rotate off the assignment every three years "because of the risks involved 
to them personally."

The board has submitted an application to the Alabama Department of 
Economic and Community Affairs seeking a grant to fund the task force next 
year. The request is for $247,000, with local sponsoring agencies 
responsible for $61,800 in matching money.

The current grant runs out April 1. In the past, where investigations have 
been involved, money for task forces have been held until the matter is 

"We're all in agreement that we need a task force, and we will continue if 
we receive the grant," Graham said. "We've certainly been more successful 
working together instead of working cases as individual agencies."

Singleton said the task force has delivered several significant cases, "and 
will continue to be successful in the future."

Lauderdale County Sheriff Ronnie Willis, who took office last month, has 
been considering withdrawing from the task force. He said the investigation 
has had no bearing on his thinking.

"We're weighing our options, and I'll sit down and discuss it further with 
(Chief Deputy Jr. Witt)," Willis said. "We want to see if the grant is 
approved.Regardless, drugs are going to be there, and we've got to work 
them. There's no question you can get a lot more done with four or five 
people working cases than you can working them by individual agencies."

Singleton said his department will continue taking an aggressive approach 
in developing drug cases during the reorganization period. He agrees more 
can be accomplished with a task force working together.

"We intend to continue working as a task force," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom