ALBANY -- Fighting the use and distribution of illegal drugs is a daily battle for Bill Berry and members of the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit.
The 20-member group's sole task is disrupting, dismantling and dissolving drug operations within the confines of Albany and Dougherty County. However, Berry and his crew occasionally venture out further into southwest and south-central Georgia to assist law enforcement agencies that are suffering from a small-time police presence but a large-scale drug problem.
"Frankly, we're the biggest fish south of Atlanta with maybe the exception of Savannah," Berry said of the drug squad. "So a lot of departments look to us for help in combating their drug problems."
Berry, who was speaking at a recent Rotary Club meeting, was quick to point out that drug operations, as with other crimes, aren't limited to geopolitical boundaries.
"I have other agencies, maybe some of our surrounding counties, telling me that when they arrest someone, they say that there is too much heat here in Albany for these guys so they (drug dealers) are now focusing on their counties,: he said. "I hate that they are having a problem, but my first priority is to keep them out of Dougherty County and assist other departments as needed."
During his presentation, Berry spoke of the prevalence of different drugs in the area such as marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy as well as the philosophy behind the ADDU's methods.
Focusing on what he called the "triangle" of the drug supplier, mid-level dealers and drug users, Berry said the agency has to employ different techniques than the ones of typical law enforcement agencies.
"I've had people come up to me and say, 'I don't see any of your units out on the street,' and I always say thank you to that because we don't always want to be seen," Berry said. "When we want to be seen and have a big presence, you'll see our marked cars and uniformed officers, but a lot of our work is done by people you would never think were police officers."
To help keep the clandestine wing of his tactical operations one step ahead of the dealers, Berry said the unit relies on different techniques for anti-drug operations. For example, using GBI agents or other law enforcement personnel from a different part of the state, utilizing advanced surveillance technology or hiring an officer straight out of the academy who maybe hasn't been attached to a local department and wouldn't be easily recognizable.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that when you take an officer who was born and raised here, went to school here and has spent two years out on the road in uniform, that when you see him and now he's in plain clothes with shaggy hair and a beard, that something's up," Berry said. "So we do different things to give our people an edge when they do buys and things of that nature."
Berry himself worked deep undercover as a narcotics officer in Macon before coming to Albany -- wearing long hair and a beard to disguise his look. He was even arrested on several occasions and thrown into jail to try and obtain intelligence from jailed drug dealers.
Berry also showed the crowd how those who continue to make methamphetamine -- a once-popular local drug that has declined over the years because of the danger involved in its manufacturing process and laws put in place restricting the sale of its ingredients -- now "cook" the drug in mobile labs. The process is known as "shaking and baking," which is now confined to a two-liter soda bottle.
The ADDU is a collaborative agency comprising officers of the Dougherty County Police Department, the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office and the Albany Police Department. The agency is under the supervision of Sheriff Kevin Sproul, Albany Police Chief John Proctor, DCP Chief Don Cheek, City Attorney Nathan Davis and District Attorney Greg Edwards.
In addition to the officers assigned to the unit, Assistant District Attorney Brumby Montgerard and an administrative assistant are assigned to work with the unit full-time.
In total, the agency is budgeted for 26 positions but is currently six short of capacity -- one sheriff's office position and five APD positions. Berry said that, excluding the salaries of the officers and personnel associated with the ADDU, the general operating budget supported by tax dollars hovers around $200,000, with other funds coming directly from the drug dealers through fines, forfeitures and seizures of drug-related items.
"I like to say that our office is fully funded by the drug dealers of Albany and Dougherty County," Berry said.