Gwinnett Police, SafetySmart Lilburn discuss drug issues

LILBURN -- A veteran Gwinnett County police officer admitted Thursday night to a Lilburn community group that even he didn't realize how many crimes have a connection to drugs.

"Until I started working narcotics," said Major J.T. Strickland, who began his law enforcement career in 1989, referring to murder, kidnapping, robbery, gambling, prostitution, counterfeiting and other crimes.

Strickland gave a presentation at the Gwinnett County Police South Precinct to members of SafetySmart Lilburn that featured issues related to drugs, how Gwinnett is viewed in the drug trade, pictures of seizures and homes of drug dealers and users, and what to do if people spot suspicious activity. But Strickland added at the close of the event that the majority of residents of Gwinnett are law-abiding.

"Our goal with SafetySmart is to get people aware of various safety issues and ways of communicating with the police and to know that the police are our allies, and not somebody we should be afraid of," SafetySmart Lilburn President Margot Ashley said. "This gives us a great way of knowing how to respond in a situation of questionable neighborhood activity."

Some of those questionable activities include abnormal activity, such as a lot of traffic one weekend, having excessive trash or no trash, quality of life violations such as high grass and bypassing meters. One tell-tale sign to marijuana growth, Strickland said, is an electric bill that is several thousand dollars. Usually that means high-powered lights are helping the plants grow in a basement.

In recent years, Gwinnett has had some of the largest drug busts in the country, including one where 63 kilos of cocaine were seized. Another found drugs buried in a tractor-trailor filled with cucumbers. Gwinnett was also home to what was believed to be the largest meth bust in U.S. history in December, 2010, which was 983 pounds, worth about $44 million, Strickland said.

Some of the 2012 accomplishments Strickland listed were Gwinnett Police seized $16 million in illegal narcotics, made 837 drug arrests, seized 884 pounds of marijuana, 32 pounds of cocaine and 51 pounds of methamphetamine.

Formed in 2010, SafetySmart Lilburn communicates with neighborhood leaders and encourage people to get involved in mentoring programs and events such as National Night Out, which is a nationwide event where police and residents come together for drug prevention and awareness.

"We're doing things to increase community and to relate to others in a positive way in the greater Lilburn area," Ashley said.

Strickland previously worked around Norcross and Lilburn and is the commander of the North Precinct near the Mall of Georgia. He said no area or city is immune to drug activity. Trends with drugs also change, such as LSD being popular in the 1960s, while synthetic marijuna and bath salts are today.

"A lot of these places, apartment complexes, bars, were just havens for drugs, they're closed," Strickland said. "A lot of that, with the economy, the drug traffic has diminished. It's fluid. That may go away, or something else might surface up."

The Gwinnett Police drug tip line is 770-962-6272 or by email at gcpdetips@gwinnettcounty.com.