Drug arrests debated in sheriff’s race

Published 4:24 am Saturday, August 30, 2014

Is the Pike County Sheriff’s Department effective or lax when it comes to pursuing drug-related crimes?

That’s the question being raised in the race between incumbent Sheriff Russell Thomas and Republican challenger Jason Youngblood. The general election is Nov. 4.

In a recent release, Youngblood called attention to what he says is a lack of aggressiveness when it comes to drug arrests in Pike County by the Drug Task Force agents.

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“People in the public want to know, ‘Well, what’s Pike County done that’s so bad?’ So I wanted to provide them similar statistics from a comparable county,” Youngblood said.

Youngblood said he compared the arrests made by the Pike County Sheriff’s Department to several other area departments, including Coffee County and the Troy Police Department, during the 11 months between October 2012 to and August 2013. He cited the District Attorney reports which show that during that time, Drug Task Force agents for Troy Police Department made 155 cases; Coffee County, 150 cases; and the Pike County Sheriff’s Department only six cases.

“Coffee County and Pike County Sheriff’s Department are similar in size and Enterprise and Troy are very similar in size,” Youngblood said. “The situation should not be any different in Pike County than it has in Coffee County. What that tells the reader is that there has been no aggressive policy toward drugs in Pike County.”

Youngblood said documents from the Pike County Circuit Clerk’s office show only eight drug arrest warrants issued for the Pike County Sheriff’s Department in 2012, 12 people in 2013 and seven for issued for four people for the first seven months of 2014.

“Drug enforcement activities by the Pike County Sheriff’s Office are unacceptable,” he said in his statement. “The sheriff is trying to divert voter attention and cover up the facts that I stated in my campaign announcement … showing that Sheriff Thomas has lost his way when it comes to fighting the illegal drug culture in Pike County.”

Thomas challenged Youngblood’s comments, saying 292 drug cases had been made by his department between January 2008 and July 2014.

Thomas said his department has made 173 cases made for distribution of a controlled substance; 19 cases for promoting prison contraband in relation to drugs; 39 cases for possession of a controlled substance; eight cases for trafficking marijuana; four cases for trafficking cocaine; 25 cases for manufacturing methamphetamine; four cases for felony possession of marijuana; 18 cases for possession of marijuana second degree; and two cases for possession of drug paraphernalia during that time period.

Thomas said his statistics covered nearly six years and actual drug arrests have gone down significantly over the years because the Sheriff’s Department has done a “good job of staying out in front of the issue.”

“Right now things are very good in Pike County,” Thomas said. “We’re not seeing the property crimes that we were seeing in the past that are associated with drugs. You’re never going to eliminate drugs from our society, but we have done –and Bob Williams has done – an outstanding job of staying out front of this.”

Thomas said his case totals are taken directly from the case records held within the sheriff’s department. “We run a positive, clean sheriff’s department,” Thomas said. “We get results, and we always have gotten results. In some years, you’re going to have more drug cases more than others, because you’ve done such a good job to where you’ve caught a lot of people. So they’re in prison and you don’t have the same problem. And we’ve seen that we are a department that is very proactive. We try to get out front.”

The use of arrest records is a way for law enforcement agencies to keep track of statistics year to year, said District Attorney Tom Anderson. “There is a legal obligation to file reports,” Anderson said. “It’s a way to track the criminal justice statistics for trends. It’s particularly important to understand criminal offenses in particular. Law enforcement can use them to be effective and more efficient in their arrests and processes.”