(Editor's Note: This piece is derived from a recent presentation on drugs in Gwinnett County by Maj. John Strickland.)
In 2012, Gwinnett County confiscated more than $16 million worth of illegal narcotics, from 837 drug arrests: $905,000 in drug money, 884 pounds of marijuana, 32 pounds of cocaine and 51 pounds of methamphetamine.
In general, all drug arrests result in jail time (with the exception of possession of small amounts of marijuana.)
Infiltration of Mexican Cartels
Studies indicate the drug cartels in Mexico and Central America ship approximately 90 percent of drugs entering the United States. Since the 1990s, the government of Mexico recently reported being at war with the drug cartels. In most instances these cartels tend toward violence to achieve their goals.
They ship the drugs to Atlanta and from there, to major hubs such as El Paso, Chicago, New York and even Europe. Large amounts of drugs are given to suppliers, who pass it to street dealers who then sell it to users. Atlanta is a prime location for drug delivery due to its airport and interstate system. Dealers are able to blend without standing out in the population. Dealers are of all descriptions: old, middle aged and young; black, white, Asian, Latino; men and women.
Spotting a Drug House
A common sight in a drug house is a shrine of St. Jude, complete with a statue and candles. Dealers believe that this shrine protects them from other dealers, as well as from the police. There are people who have this shrine who are not drug dealers, but this is a common sight in drug houses. Drug houses can be used for several purposes, including stash houses (where drugs are stored), grow houses and methamphetamine labs.
A significant clue in detecting a house dealing in drugs is either a very high electric bill or no charges at all. In the first instance, lights used to grow marijuana, usually in the basement, consume large amounts of electricity. In the second instance, the person in the house has by-passed the electric meter, reducing detection due to the high energy consumption.
Other indicators of drug operations in a house may include: large numbers of people visiting (or no one visiting), excessive or no trash, quality of life violations such as high grass, junk cars, or cars without tags; meters bypassed (stolen electricity) or very high electrical use.
Many drug busts result from anonymous tips received from concerned residents reporting unusual activity. When a house has a sudden increase or decrease in activity, it is often indication of drugs.
Changing Police Tactics
With the advent of cell phones, police have changed their tactics in catching dealers: They have to hit several locations simultaneously to prevent escape from other locations. Gwinnett County completed the largest drug bust in its history in December 2010 and seized: 63 kilograms of cocaine valued at $6.3 million, 89 pounds of marijuana valued at $400,000, and $627,000 in currency.
A Victimless Crime?
In addition to his job as commander of Gwinnett County's North Precinct, Maj. John Strickland teaches a class at Georgia State University. Sometimes students argue that using marijuana is a victimless crime. In his experience, there are many other crimes that develop as a result of drug addiction. These crimes are all an intent of getting more drugs. Users resort to shoplifting, prostitution, gambling, counterfeiting, robbery and burglary, and other more violent activities to get the money to buy drugs.
Synthetic Marijuana: Recently, synthetic marijuana, also known as K2 has been used as a drug of choice. Derived from herbs sprayed with chemicals, K2 is illegal in Georgia, but is still legal in several surrounding states. At least six Georgia residents have died as a result of using K2.
Drugs at Traffic Stops: The Gwinnett County Police Highway Interdiction Team makes approximately 6,000 traffic stops a year, issues 3,000 citations, makes 300 drugs arrests and seizes approximately $600,000 in drugs.
Want to help police, or obtain more information?
To provide an anonymous tip to Gwinnett County Police Department, call 770-962-6272 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymous complaints are accepted, however, anyone making a report can request follow-up reports by leaving contact information. Statistics also are available upon request.