Officials with both the Moultrie Police Department and Colquitt County Sheriff’s Office said they would work together on future drug operations, but for the moment at least they are operating separate narcotics units.
Neither side expressed any acrimony in the relationship, but recent police reports have referred to the Moultrie Police Department Drug Unit after two police officers who had been were assigned to the joint Drug Enforcement Team were reassigned by Police Chief Frank Lang to the police department.
The two agencies have cooperated in joint drug investigations in at least three incarnations and names since 1979. A search by county officials indicated that the last time annual contracts for a joint drug unit were signed by the agencies was in 1996, when the drug investigative unit was still called the Moultrie-Colquitt County Drug Task Force.
After Sheriff Al Whittington was elected in 2001 the name was changed to the Moultrie-Colquitt County Drug Enforcement Team.
Most recently, after the departure of former drug team Cmdr. Steve Exum, all sheriff’s investigative functions have been combined under Lt. Shawn Bostick. Under that new arrangement, the eight sheriff’s investigators are no longer designated to either drug investigations or other felony investigations such as thefts and assaults as in the past, but are being cross-trained to perform all investigative functions.
“It’s been a few weeks ago, the chief indicated he was going to pull one of his officers,” Colquitt County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Julius Cox said. “That’s understandable. Around the end of February a couple of the officers that were assigned over here told us the chief was bringing them back over there.”
On Feb. 25, Whittington, in a letter to Lang, requested that all identification cards issued by the sheriff’s office, which operated the drug team, be returned.
“Effective March 3, 2014, all of your employees who have been sworn by me as the sheriff for law enforcement powers outside the city of Moultrie is hereby revoked,” the letter said.
Cox said that those actions were for house cleaning purposes — over the years some Moultrie officers never returned identification cards — and that the sheriff’s office will continue to cooperate with the city.
For instance, sheriff’s office officers would accompany Moultrie investigators out into the county if operations instigated by police lead out into the county, he said. Also, if Lang requested county officers for an operation inside the city the sheriff’s office would work with the department.
Over the years there have been periods when no police officers were assigned to the drug team, Cox said. In past instances police investigators eventually have returned to work in the joint effort.
Since Lang informed Whittington that he intended to pull one police officer and the departure of both, Cox said, the two agencies have not discussed the future of cooperative drug efforts.
In the meantime the sheriff’s office will not replace Exum, and Bostick, who previously was in charge of non-drug-related criminal investigations, will supervise all of the county investigators.
“Al’s take is criminal investigations and drug investigations, most of it runs hand in hand,” Cox said. “It will actually diversify that unit up there. It basically spreads your people power.”
As for the police: “If they need our assistance, we’ll help them,” he said.
Lang said that although the only two city officers assigned to work with county investigators were pulled about two months ago, he does not consider the drug team dissolved.
“We pulled our officer back because our numbers were down and we wanted to do more-focused operations in the city,” Lang said.
He described the current arrangement as “temporary.”
“It’s very important that we try to put the unit back together as quickly as possible,” Lang said. “I hope we can be back in the joint task force real soon. It is important to have a joint unit working.”