Drug crimes on the rise across Cullman County
(Excerpt from The Cullman Tribune - June 27, 2019)
CULLMAN, Ala. – Drugs are a constant issue for law enforcement across Cullman County and, increasingly, they are finding their way into the day-to-day life of its citizens. A recent social media post showing drug paraphernalia found in a public bathroom prompted The Tribune to ask the Cullman Police Department (CPD) and Cullman County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) what’s happening.
What drugs and what crimes?
Right now, methamphetamine and opioids- especially heroin- are the drugs causing the biggest headaches for the CCSO, according to Sheriff Matt Gentry. Lt. Jason Mickle of the CPD Crime Suppression Unit (CSU) said the city’s main problems are with meth and “repurposed” prescription medications (mostly opioids), with heroin on the rise and marijuana a perennial issue.
The CSU engages in proactive “boots on the ground” policing: making traffic stops and responding to reports by citizens by increasing patrols in areas where suspicious activities have been observed. It is not specifically a drug interdiction unit, but much of what it encounters is drug-related.
According to Gentry, more than 90 percent of all inmates in the Cullman County Detention Center are there for crimes involving drugs, and the issues go well beyond possession and distribution. People under the influence of drugs tend to make poor decisions, including getting behind the wheel of a car. When the addiction requires more drugs than addicts can afford, theft, robbery, prostitution and other crimes become fundraisers for their habits.
Said Gentry, “That’s what’s going to cause somebody to write bad checks. That’s what’s going to cause somebody to break into your house, commit a burglary, steal. It’s the root of all evil.”
In a recent story on the increase in failures to appear (FTAs) in court since a federal court injunction required the CCSO and county courts to release most suspects on a non-monetary bond (https://www.cullmantribune.com/2019/06/06/out-on-bond-what-has-free-bail-meant-for-cullman-county/), The Tribune noted that Cullman County has seen an average of 16 to 17 more drug arrests per month since the injunction than before.
Gentry talked about one reason for the increase:
“I think what you see a lot of times is this: so, let’s say somebody FTAs. We go out, we stop them on a traffic stop or we go to their house to arrest them. Well, guess what? They’ve got more drugs. So we arrest them again, and so you’re going to see that number rise.
“So, as you don’t go to court and you’re not held accountable, then we go back out there, from their perspective, ‘Why would I not do that? Why would I not have more drugs, if I know that there’s no accountability on the judicial end?’ That’s what we face with everything that we’re dealing with.”
Mickle echoed Gentry’s comments, saying, “The sad fact in our community: if you get out and you really start looking and digging into things, a lot of our thefts and a lot of other cases are related back to drug issues.”
Where are the drugs?
“There’s not a spike in one area or another area,” said Gentry. “You know, every community faces it. Every community is going to have somebody that’s a problem in drug use, whether it’s in the city of Cullman or out in the county. There’s not a community that’s immune to it.”
Gentry pointed out that Cullman County’s location along the I-65 corridor brings its own set of issues, saying, “On that interstate corridor, you’re going to deal with things on that corridor of people that are not from Cullman County. You’re going to deal with people coming into our community, stopping at the rest area, stopping at stores, convenience stores.”
According to the sheriff, people get off the interstate and seek out convenient sources of drugs in the local area before moving on.