Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit arrested 'quality' dealers

ALBANY -- For drug unit commander Bill Berry, drug investigations are really a matter of quality over quantity.

Giving his annual report to the Dougherty County Commission Monday, Berry gave numbers that -- on the surface -- seem to suggest a slow down in the department's drug eradication efforts.

Compared to 2008, arrests and charges brought against suspects by the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit for 2009 are down significantly.

For 2009, the department arrested 393 individuals compared to 575 in 2008, bringing 617 total charges compared with 1,055 in 2008.

But in terms of those same 2008 statistics, the department's drug and property seizure totals are high.

The ADDU seized roughly $800,000 worth of drugs in 2009 doubling the $400,000 seized in 2008. In terms of asset forfeiture -- property obtained through illegal drug sales -- the department was up to $368,000 in 2009 compared to $133,000 in 2008.

"We have essentially changed our tactics," Berry told the commission. "My philosophy is that if you cut the head off the snake, you don't have to worry about the rest of it...while we're still looking at the small users, our focus is on the large, multi-pound drug dealers with the mindset if we cut off the supply, everything else will deal with itself."

The report comes on the heels of a large methamphetamine and marijuana discovery last week in Eastern Dougherty County where two people were arrested in what Berry described as a manufacturing center.

The ADDU's efforts and the headlines they're generating are impacting the agency's anti-drug efforts, Berry said.

"Because of all the press and the word of mouth about the meth bust last week, we were set to have another one later in the week but they refused to come into the county," Berry said. "That is what we're aiming for, to keep this stuff out of the county."

Additionally, Berry said that his agency has stepped up participation in community and educational events, speaking at schools and civic groups throughout the county.

In terms of the staffing, commissioners expressed concerns over vacancies in the unit.

The unit is made up of 26 members with the Albany Police Department and county law enforcement -- split between the Dougherty County Sheriff's office and Dougherty County Police -- fielding 12 members from each, Berry and a full-time prosecutor from the District Attorney's office.

The vacancies have historically been from the APD, prompting the Dougherty County Commission to ask County Administrator Richard Crowdis to write a letter to City Manager Alfred Lott about the department being "chronically short."

"If we were all like them and you stayed three to five members short, you'd be in a lot of trouble," Commissioner Jack Stone said. "Drugs are a big problem in Dougherty County and I think its important that they keep up their end of the stick."

The Albany Police Department has been suffering through their own staffing shortage. Albany Police Chief John Proctor has cut the department's 40-plus vacancies in half since January -- including nine additional vacancies created by a stimulus grant approved by the city commission.

Active recruiting and retention efforts are continuing and, at the city's last commission meeting, Proctor said he was hopeful that the department would be up to full staff by the end of the year.

"I've had talks with the chief (Proctor) and he's working to give us the people we need," Berry told the commission.

Following the meeting, Berry clarified the issue with staffing, saying that narcotics investigators require specialized training and go through additional rigorous background and financial checks.

"It's not like you can just walk out into the hallway and grab the first officers you see," Berry said.