Pubdate: Sat, 02 Sep 2006
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2006 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Joe Johnson


Athens-Clarke, Oconee, UGA Working Together

Police seized 317 pot plants with a street value of $1.1 million in
June when they raided an indoor marijuana farm in a house across from
Oconee County Middle School.

The raid was one of the successes of the Western Judicial Circuit Drug
Task Force, formed in January by the Athens-Clarke and University of
Georgia police departments and Oconee County Sheriff's Office. A
change in federal drug enforcement funding led locals to create the
task force, since grants now go to regional enforcement units rather
than to individual police or sheriff's departments, according to the
unit's supervisor, Athens-Clarke police Lt. Mike Hunsinger. The task
force opened 206 cases, made 114 arrests on 165 criminal charges, and
seized drugs and drug-related assets with a total value of $1.6
million in the first six months of 2006, Hunsinger said.

Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry said the new arrangement has
significantly boosted drug-fighting firepower in his county.

"I think it's really increased our ability to focus on people who make
their living in the drug trade in Oconee County," Berry said. "We've
worked ad hoc with the Athens drug unit in the past, and now that this
relationship has been formalized it has shortened the chain of command
and I'm able to dedicate a lot more resources" to combating drugs.

An additional 10 pounds of marijuana were taken off Oconee streets
July 24, when a task force member alerted a deputy that an Athens man
was transporting the drugs through the county in a pickup truck. In
addition to the six officers who formerly made up the Athens-Clarke
Police Department's Drug & Vice Unit, the regional task force has one
officer from the UGA police department and an Oconee County officer.
Hunsinger said vice operations, including investigations of
prostitution and gambling, now fall to the Athens-Clarke Police
Department's Uniform Division. UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson said
the U.S. Justice Department's Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance
Grant program now requires at least two counties and one city to
provide task force members. "Since there's no real city in Athens, we
asked if UGA could be considered as a city since it has a population
of more than 40,000 and its own police department," Williamson said.
"From our standpoint, we've always worked really well with the
Athens-Clarke Police Department, and we agreed to join the task force
so they could continue getting grant money." Williamson said the new
relationship is a positive one. "We're interacting more in ways to
show the university is part of the community," he said. "I think it
shows the university is providing resources to the county government
to assist in projects that are a priority for them."
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