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Drug interdiction important to sheriff’s department

Interstate traffic interdictions are not an active policy of theLincoln County Sheriff’s Department, according to Sheriff WileyCalcote, but they do contribute to efforts in the drug war.

His office does not regularly engage in interstateinterdictions, Calcote said, because he prefers to leave that tothe Mississippi Highway Patrol. His officers do occasionally maketraffic stops when deputies are traveling on the interstate to getfrom one area of the county to another.

“We do not have an officer assigned to I-55,” Calcote said.

Calcote said negative publicity resulting from a recentnewspaper article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune about a $27,000seizure involving three New Orleans businessmen will not preventhis deputies from continuing to make occasional stops on I-55.

The money was returned last week when investigators failed tolink it to a crime. Investigators had suspected the money was beinglaundered, Calcote said. They also had concerns about whether taxeshad been paid on the money, which was reported as proceeds fromstore sales.

“People need to know if they travel through Lincoln County theymay be stopped if they violate the law. We’re not backing upbecause of any negative article,” he said.

Interdiction along I-55 is important, Calcote said, because theinterstate serves as a primary artery in drug trafficking fromTexas to other areas in the South.

“There’s a lot of drugs that travel through Lincoln County onI-55,” he said. “It’s true that not a lot of those drugs stop inLincoln County, but a seizure here can still help someone up theroad. The war on drugs is a national one, not regional.”

However, Calcote said he does not feel justified in allottingcounty resources to a concerted effort to stop the trafficking onthe interstate when the MHP is already conducting thoseoperations.

“We try to put all our attention on the county communities, notthe interstate,” he said.

Drug interdiction efforts, whether done in the county or on theinterstate, provide law enforcement agencies with needed funds tocombat drug abuse, Calcote said.

Eighty percent of the money seized in drug cases under the stateasset forfeiture laws is returned to the agency that made thearrest. Twenty percent goes to the district attorney’s office,according to Robert Byrd, an assistant district attorney with the14th District.

In some cases, such as when more than one agency is involved inthe seizure, the money is distributed differently, but 100 percentof the seizure is returned to law enforcement, he said.

“We’ve got to have it,” Calcote said. “The four vehicles wepurchased this year were purchased with drug-seized money. If wedid not have this drug seizure money coming in, we would have tocut back on staff and in other areas. It’s crucial we have thismoney coming in.”

Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department Narcotics Capt. DustinBairfield, who handles the paperwork on the seizures, said thedepartment has made a total of 35 seizures since Jan. 1, but onlythree or four were made on I-55.

The vast majority of their seizure cases result from stops madeon county roads, he said. The number of seizures varies from monthto month, but the department averages about seven a month.

Occasionally, Bairfield said, money seized when drugs are foundis proved not to be linked to the illegal substances, and in thosecases the money is returned to the suspect.

This most commonly occurs during the tax refund season, he said,when people cash their tax refund checks and are stopped soonafterward in possession of drugs. When the suspect presents hisincome tax check, and the time and date it was cashed is verified,the money is returned.

“We try to screen them pretty well,” he said. “We’re after drugmoney, nothing else.”

Once a seizure case makes it to court, however, Bairfieldestimated that 95 percent or more of the rulings are in favor ofthe sheriff’s department.