The first three Shelby County residents have been arrested following a six month joint undercover narcotics operation with Louisiana's DeSoto Parish. "We presently have approximately 50 defendants that we are fixing to start picking up, and they are scattered out all over this county", said Shelby County Sheriff Newton Johnson. DeSoto Parish has about 100 warrants.
Undercover investigations don't come easily in Shelby County, despite the help from neighboring states. Deputy Kevin Gratehouse is back from Iraq combat. Now he patrols Shelby County, fighting drug trafficking. So, which battle is more difficult? "That's a tough question. Neither one of them is an easy mission," answered the deputy.
The county doesn't belong to a drug task force. It has nine deputies with one patrolman per shift, and one less constable who quit because of high expenses. All the while, illegal narcotics continue to fill up the evidence room managed by Captain Mike Tollett.
Tollett pulls out a box filled with bags of crack-cocaine."This is the normal thing. We purchase more of this than anything. There's more of it available out there, and we've also been purchasing PCP."
Sheriff Johnson knows illegal narcotics cross many boundaries. He welcomed the opportunity to work with Louisiana law enforcement agencies. "We send a warrant over and they arrest them for us, and then we'll extradite if they don't want to come back voluntarily," he explained.
Center is 15 miles away from Louisiana, but the county goes right up to the state line. Deputies say all roads leading to the east are frequently used by drug dealers. Sometimes, these are roads of pursuit for Deputy Gratehouse. "They'll hopefully set up a roadblock where we can get them shut down before they get to Louisiana.Of course, if we're still in pursuit, we can still follow them out of state."
Sheriff Johnson's goal is to keep drug dealers out of Shelby County for good. "We have been able to close that avenue of escape, and these people will no longer be able to operate illegally in one state and live in another."
Churches Help Too
A Shelby County church is also working with Louisiana in the fight against drugs. The United Pentecostal Church in Center offers a Christian Intervention Program for drug and alcohol abusers. The curriculum comes from Louisiana's "Freedom Ministries".
Pastor Stephen Harris said, "We teach life skills--basically parenting, financial freedom, how to deal with problems in your life--basic life skills. It's 6:00 to 7:00 every Wednesday night."
The church also offers once-a-month counseling to jail inmates. This Saturday (August 27th), the church is sponsoring a "Power To Be Drug Free" event at the Center Wal-Mart. Free food, giveaways, music, and BMX stunt bikes will provide entertainment. Reformed drug abusers will provide the message.