ALBANY – When Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas discussed visits to houses meant to improve people’s lives, it was obvious he wasn’t referring to handing out religious pamphlets.
Cohilas was one of several officials who spoke during a Friday news conference at Albany Police Department headquarters in which the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced the formation of a new regional drug task force as part of drug- and gang-fighting efforts in southwest Georgia.
“I’m ready for them to kick in some doors, make people (drug dealers) nervous and make feel people feel safe again,” Cohilas said.
Cutting off income from drug sales is one way to have an immediate impact on the city’s street gangs, he said.
“If you want to (kill) the snake, you need to cut off its food,” Cohilas said.
The GBI will use federal grant money, state funds and local contributions from Albany and Dougherty County, which are funding office space and some office staff.
The agency announced earlier this year that it is returning its office to Albany from Sylvester. The task force was in Albany for much of the 1980s and early 1990s before it was moved to Sylvester.
“This is a replicated model. It’s a proven model that will work,” GBI Deputy Director Scott Dutton said. “The presence we had here before is not quite there. This is a step in this direction.
“I think with this focused effort for the entire southwest Georgia area, it’s going to be tremendous. This is an important thing for us in terms of addressing violent crime.”
Initially, the office will have six drug agents, Dutton said, with the eventual goal of nearly doubling that number to 10.
The agents will coordinate and work with local agencies. In Dougherty County, that includes Albany police, Dougherty County police and the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit. The region covered by the GBI unit includes Dougherty and 41 other counties.
“Without question, drugs are the core of making money (for gangs),” Dutton told The Herald during an interview following the news conference. “In a criminal enterprise, money is everything in keeping that going.”
Long-term plans include training and equipping officers from law enforcement agencies across the region to participate in the task force’s activities.
Violent crime has been an issue in the current mayoral election in which voters will cast ballots on Tuesday.
Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, in remarks at the news conference, said that Albany is not unique in high drug and gang activity.
“We know that crime is rampant in other cities, I might say all over Georgia,” she said.
“We have the team now that we feel is going to fight crime.”