County sets new record in drug busts

LAWRENCEVILLE - For the second year in a row, Gwinnett County has set a new record for illegal drug seizures, according to Gwinnett County police officials.

The Gwinnett County Multi-Agency Drug Task Force in 2006 seized nearly $56 million in illegal drugs, which was about $20 million more than last year's amount of approximately $34 million, said Gwinnett County police Maj. Bart Hulsey.

But both years were an extreme change from 2004, when officers seized roughly $9.5 million, according to information from a previous report.

Hulsey said the drugs seized in 2006 included 386.47 pounds of powder cocaine, 2.79 pounds of crack cocaine, 147.17 pounds of methamphetamine and 6,665.46 pounds of marijuana.

"That's three tons of marijuana," said Hulsey, who added that the most notable increase was the amount of meth seized, as 2005's number of 21.82 pounds increased to 147.17 pounds in 2006.

He also said drugs can be linked to more than just drug-possession or distribution charges.

For example, the demand for drugs creates criminal activity, as drug users have been arrested committing crimes like breaking into cars, auto theft, burglary and robbery to support their habits, Hulsey said.

But then there's the supply side of the drug world.

"Drug dealers take in stolen property in trade for drugs," Hulsey said. "Dealers also use violence to collect drug debts. They are in constant confrontations with other dealers, (and) some of these confrontations end in murder."

Hulsey said most of the large amounts drugs seized are believed to be brought in from Mexico.

In 2006, there were more than 100 search warrants served in Gwinnett by the task force.

"This year's record seizures are due entirely to the relentless efforts of the young men and women in the unit," Hulsey said. "They face these violent dealers every day, (and) the more they arrest and take off of the street, the safer Gwinnett County is."

Hulsey said the task force is composed of Gwinnett County police officers and personnel from other Gwinnett-area police agencies.

A Snellville police officer and an analyst from the Lilburn department are working with the task force, with others coming back on board in the near future, Hulsey said.

Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Darren Moloney said "drug dealers don't recognize jurisdictional boundaries, (but) by law, police officers have to.

"When several different agencies work together, it increases the flow of information and the ability to act," Moloney said.

Moloney said an investigator from the District Attorney's office is also assigned to the task force.

"This (investigator) does not work undercover, his job (has) more of an advisory status," Moloney said. "Before and during the investigation and even after the arrest, the DA's help and advise us. This makes for much stronger cases when it gets to the courtroom."

The year 2006 also brought with it two other records, homicides and traffic fatalities.

In 2006, 40 homicides and 93 traffic deaths were reported in Gwinnett County.

The number of homicides increased from 34 in 2005 and 32 in 2004, said Ted Bailey, chief forensic investigator with the Medical Examiner's Office.

As for traffic fatalities, they increased from 86 in 2005 and 88 in 2004, Bailey said.