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Officers: Public can help with drug war

The life of a narcotics agent is one both glamorized and mademore difficult by television, and Lincoln County is nodifferent.

In the battle against drugs, much of the work by any lawenforcement agency is aided by help from concerned citizens.Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department Narcotics Capt. John Whitakersaid sometimes the mainstream view of the drug world can actuallyinterfere in the war on drugs.

“People watch too much television, ‘CSI’ and all those othershows,” said Whitaker. “And they’re so scared of what’s going tohappen if they tell us anything. That’s not the real world, though.That’s just junk.”

Whitaker said the community’s willingness to get involved andawareness of their surroundings can step up the stakes a notch,helping to clean the streets of Brookhaven and Lincoln County.

“I want the public to know not to be afraid to let us know ifthey see something suspicious,” he said. “We don’t need names, justthe information you have if you’re aware of drug activity.”

Southwest Mississippi Narcotics Commander John Douglas saidcitizens are the lifeline for police not only in druginvestigations, but also in any suspicious activity.

“As with any crime, people in their own neighborhoods knowwhat’s normal and what’s not,” he said. “Anything that seems out ofthe ordinary warrants a call. That’s a very important part of acommunity police department, and that’s what we pride ourselves onis citizens taking part in stopping crime in our community.”

Whitaker said narcotics agents know the fight against the streetdealers on the proverbial corner is endless.

“The people citizens see on the streets dealing crack orwhatever, we can take them down, but there’s always someone to taketheir place,” he said. “That’s part of a never-ending cycle.”

But the problem does not only arise in the city’s populatedareas. Sometimes strange activity is going on in a rural community,and the people in the area have noticed, but don’t really realizewhat they’re seeing, the officer said.

Whitaker said there could be several signs that someone isgrowing marijuana that people might find out of the ordinary, butthat would not arouse their suspicions.

“This time of year when it’s so dry, people with water bucketsand milk jugs in areas that are known to be remote,” he said. “Likeif you’re driving down West Lincoln or Clark Travis or one of thesequiet roads and there’s someone with his trunk open and he’s gotwater jugs in a place where there’s really not a path, something’sprobably going on.”

Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson reiterated that anysuspicious activity needs to be reported.

“Even if it’s not drugs, people’s suspicions about things thatare out of the ordinary in the area they travel or live in can leadto anything,” he said. “It could be something else illegal.”

Whitaker also said residents’ sense of smell is very importantin detecting drug manufacturers, as a methamphetamine lab gives offa chemical smell.

“If you’ve got a wooded area and there’s an ammonia or ethersmell coming from it, or even an abandoned house or trailer,there’s a possibility you’ve got a meth lab there,” he said.

Meth labs are not only a hazard because of the drugs theyproduce, but also because of the dangerous and explosive chemicalsused to make the methamphetamine.

“They pose a danger to the people manufacturing the drugsbecause of the hazards of the products they have to deal with,”said Whitaker, who has a certificate in meth lab hazmat.

Methamphetamine is manufactured in part from over-the-countercold medicines such as Sudafed or Suphedrine. Once produced, itcomes in several forms, from the crystal to the liquid to the pillform.

The popular drug “ecstasy,” which is a methamphetaminederivative, has different personalities in and of itself.

“The pills all look different, as each person who makes themadds his own signature,” said Whitaker. “It might have theVolkswagen logo stamped on it, or the Playboy bunny, or just somekind of stamp that stands for the person who made it. If you lookat it, you’re going to think, ‘That pill doesn’t look right.'”

Douglas said the problem of meth production tends to lie more inthe rural areas than in the cities.

“We haven’t had so much of a problem here in the city,” he said.”We’ve only had one, and it wasn’t an operational lab. They justhad the things they needed to make a lab.”

Whitaker said overall, the number of meth labs in the county andthe state have fallen, but that often methamphetamine is beingbrought in from the outside, from places such as Mexico andCalifornia.

Dangers to the community do not only lie in the hard narcoticsthat are considered to be so frightening. Whitaker said someteenagers are abusing prescription and over-the-counter drugs aswell. He said if parents notice that their children’s Ritalin doesnot seem to be working or if they suspect the child might not betaking it, it’s worth checking into.

“If your child is taking Ritalin and you suspect they’re nottaking it, make sure that it’s monitored,” he said. “We’ve hadchildren trade or sell their prescriptions at school.”

The problem among teens also extends to over-the-countermedicines, with one called Coricidin leading the way. The drug,also called “Triple C,” “Dex” or “skittles,” is a cold medicinewhich leaves the user with a drunken effect.

But Douglas said the danger lies in that people tend to thinkover-the-counter drugs like Coricidin are not as dangerous asillegal drugs.

“Any drug you don’t take properly can be dangerous. You can eventake too much aspirin,” Douglas said. “And especially young peopletend to think it’s not as dangerous because they’re over thecounter.”

Taken in bulk, they can be easily as dangerous, with symptoms ofoverdose being just as severe, Whitaker said, causinghallucinations, dissociative conditions, extremely elevated bodytemperatures, nausea, abdominal pain, brain damage, seizures andeven death.

“The important thing is cleaning up the county for our kids,” hesaid. “If we can get kids off the drugs and keep them off the drugsnow, life will be a lot better for everyone in 10 years.”

Churches, school groups, civic organizations and other groupsare encouraged to host Drug I.D. Classes, which Whitakerteaches.

To set up a Drug I.D. Class, groups can call the Sheriff’sDepartment at (601) 833-5231. Anyone with information on drugactivity is also asked to call the Sheriff’s Department, theBrookhaven Police Department at (601) 833-2424, or Crime Stoppersat (601) 823-0150.

Henderson said he believes curing the community’s drug problemsis not only in the name of the safety of the community, but alsobecause the law must be upheld.

“Our federal, state and local laws said it’s illegal to use,grow and possess illegal drugs,” he said. “As long as that is thecase, we will continue to fight the war on drugs.”