Drug smuggling lessening

By Ed Brock

Increased security at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport is leading to a decrease in drug smuggling through the airport, law enforcement officials say.

And that means less drug money for those departments as well.

But the decline in smuggling at the airport is still a victory, Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle said.

"I really don't care so long as we're taking the drug dealers off the streets," Tuggle said.

From Jan. 1 to Sept. 11 2001 there were 151 drug-related arrests made at Hartsfield and $1.2 million in currency confiscated, according to the Clayton County Drug Task Force. During that time 1,127 pounds of marijuana, 813 pounds of the African drug khat, 569 pounds of cocaine, 42.93 pounds of ecstasy, two pounds of methamphetamine, one pound of heroin and 1,412 hits of LSD were seized.

From Sept. 11, 2001 to present 76 arrests have been made at the airport and $572,712 seized. There were 2,919 pounds of marijuana, 275 pounds of khat, 22 pounds of cocaine, 15 pounds of methamphetamine and one pound of ecstasy confiscated at the airport.

The downward trend of smuggling drugs through airports nationwide began after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and seems to be connected also to the subsequent creation of the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Safety Administration spokeswoman Lauren Stover said. The creation of the new department put under the same umbrella several federal agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol and the TSA.

"The information we are sharing is allowing us to intercept unwanted individuals who want to work at the airport," Stover said.

Along with the deeper background check on airport employees there is more new technology being implemented at the airports and a stronger presence of K-9 drug-detecting dog units.

"And there's just more focus on security these days," Stover said. "Everybody now is more vigilant in keeping their eyes open."

While drug trafficking at the airport has slowed down, that doesn't mean the drug trade has stopped, said Clayton County Drug Task Force Senior Agent James Beveridge. The task force is now focusing on other ways criminals bring drugs into the country. But Beveridge said he didn't want to jeopardize current operations by specifying what the task force is investigating.

Drug money made by seized cash and assets that are auctioned off is used to augment law enforcement agencies, Tuggle said.

"We're able to buy equipment that the county is reluctant to purchase," Tuggle said. "It's going to hurt us in that respect."

But while the post-Sept. 11 security situation has reduced one financial resource for law enforcement it has brought about another.

"Because of grant money coming from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency we have been able to stabilize the impact from the decline in seizures," Clayton County Police Chief Darrell Partain said.

And drugs are still being bought and sold, Partain said.

"The course of travel of narcotics seems to be by land now but still in the general direction of an airport because the deals seem more active there," Partain said.