Drugs and gangs are a definite problem in LaGrange, the LaGrange Police Department’s Civilian Police Academy learned during its second class Tuesday.
Sgt. Mark Cavender of LPD’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU), began the class by describing the duties of his SIU team, which includes investigating gambling, trafficking, prostitution, alcohol and drug incidents.
A sample of seized drugs and drug paraphernalia, which included methamphetamine, cocaine, smoking devices and close to a pound of marijuana were shown to the class.
Cavender explained that possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana is considered a felony, along with possession of any amount of methamphetamine and cocaine. In addition, anyone in possession of any prescribed narcotics such as Xanax and Hydrocodone without having a prescription will be charged with a felony.
“Prescription drug abuse today is slowly overtaking all other drug abuse in this country,” said Cavender. “Because it’s so easy to get and so cheap to get.”
The effects drug abusers are getting from drugs like hydrocodone and oxycontin have the same effects as with the use of heroine and is just as addictive, he said. Many of these people are “doctor shopping,” going to different doctors for prescriptions, which he said is considered a felony in Alabama, but is legal in Georgia.
These drug shoppers typically sell the pills. Pills like Lortab, he said, are being sold on the street for up to $30.
In cases like these, the SIU can set up undercover operations for purchases of drugs to catch the dealer in act.
Aside from physical drug possession, Cavender said that someone can be charged with methamphetamine possession even if a glass pipe, used to smoke methamphetamine, is found in their possession. Blood tests can also be used to charge someone with possession of methamphetamine.
New drug names are beginning to surface among teens. Cavender warned that teens are now referring to methamphetamine and marijuana as “Tina” and “Beth,” and a new form of ecstasy referred to as “Molly” is beginning to become a common drug among teens.
Investigator Ray Ham then talked about how local gangs play a huge role in drug crimes in the city. He stated that a gang is “an existence of an organization that may be established by any common name, signs, symbols, tattoos, graffiti or ties.”
Up to 96 percent of all violent crimes committed in larger cities are by criminal gangs.
“Criminal gangs commit as much as 80 percent of the street crime in many small communities like LaGrange,” said Ray.
Most of them occur during drug sales and aggravated assault, armed robbery, drug trafficking, auto theft and murder are common crimes committed by gangs.
Due to the severity of their crimes, gang warrants have normally a minimum five year sentence in Georgia for each charge.
“These guys are a serious danger,” said Ham.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been 19 gang-related shootings in LaGrange where 13 were actually shot, said Ham.
In LaGrange, police have possibly encountered 12 to 20 groups of individuals that meet the criteria of a gang, with possibly up to 150 to 200 members.
LaGrange Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies meet once a month to focus on gangs.
“We are coming together to make gang cases, it makes sense for us to compliment each other to make cases against gang members,” said Ham.