By Ed Brock
There was a time when it was safe to drive a Lexus to a drug deal.
Those days have long since passed.
"Of course dope dealers are getting smarter," Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle said. "They know we're taking vehicles so they're using a lot of leased vehicles and old, worn out vehicles."
Thus the Clayton County Drug Enforcement Task Force is requesting that the county commission sell the 1994 Honda Accord it seized during its operations rather than something that could make a little more money for law enforcement. Still, in other ways drug dealers continue to inadvertently fund the war being waged against them.
Currently the county has $4.5 million in the special account into which the proceeds from the sale of the Honda will go along with other monies taken by federal and state agencies operating in Clayton County, Chief Administrative Assistant Clark Stevens said.
Stevens said that money and 75 percent of future income from drug cash seizures and the sale of impounded vehicles already have a purpose.
"We're going to let the drug offenders pay for the new police station and 911 center," Stevens said.
That new $17 million facility is currently under construction at the corner of Ga. Highway 138 and McDonough Road in Jonesboro. The 75 percent of future proceeds will go to debt service on the cost of the building.
The remaining 25 percent of the future drug seizure proceeds will go to other law enforcement needs, including the K-9 drug-detecting dog units that are a front line defense in the war on drugs.
"That way we don't have to hit the taxpayers," Stevens said.
A lot of drug money comes from Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, Stevens said, but that has slowed since the increase in security following the Sept. 11 attacks. The interstates continue to be the primary source of drug funds.
Along with selling the Honda the commission will be asked at Tuesday's meeting to assign an impounded 1999 Dodge Stratus and three trailers to the county police department's fleet.
"We're going to have cones and barricades in the trailers so when we respond to an incident we won't have to wait for the Transportation and Development Department (to get through to a scene), we can use our own equipment," Clayton County Police Chief Darrell Partain said.
Tuggle said the amount of money gained from drug seizures varies from year to year depending on the kind of operations they are undertaking. Usually they seize cash and vehicles.
One way in which Tuggle's office uses the money is for drug education. Previously they had a Lexus that had been seized in a drug raid that was painted with the sheriff's brown and gold colors and used in that program. About two years ago they sold it and used the proceeds, along with other drug seizure monies, to buy a new Chrysler PT Cruiser, considered a trendy car with young people at the time.
"We use it in our Junior Deputy Program and part of that is steering them away from drugs," Tuggle said.
After a person is arrested on drug-related charges a series of hearings are held to condemn the seized property, Partain said. Once that process is complete the property belongs to the county.
"It's a continuous circle, using bad money for continuing the good of law enforcement," Partain said.