Over the last year Sampson County residents have seen an impressive number of drug arrests and mug shots wind up on the front page of this newspaper. It is no accident, says Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton, in fact, concerned citizens are one of the main reasons why they were arrested in the first place.
“Look, who is responsible for for their community?,” the sheriff asks. “The people who are in that community. They all have a vested interest in where they live. And, to their credit, a lot of them have taken the stand by calling us and letting us know they aren’t going to put up with any drugs in their neighborhoods.”
Unlike previous years, where the sheriff was limited to conducting just one major undercover campaign a year, this year, Thornton and his Special Investigations Division (SID) have been able to focus resources and intelligence to coordinate three campaigns — Operation Rehab; Operation Tapout; and more recently, Operation Scarecrow.
The three campaigns resulted in a whopping 108 arrests and 388 charges, 21 percent of those were at the trafficking level. Twelve of the arrests were suspects who had gang affiliations. These arrests were directly related to the three undercover campaigns and do not include other arrests initiated by the SID agents.
“We were lucky to have been able to conduct this many campaigns this year,” Thornton explained. “We wanted to send a stronger message that we are not going to tolerate drugs in this county and I think that message is becoming clear.”
Thornton said that the campaigns netted big felony arrests, but more importantly, got the drugs off the streets.
In looking at the types of drugs involved in the three campaigns and seized, approximately 43 percent of the charges involved cocaine/crack cocaine; 22 percent involved marijuana; 16 percent involved prescription pills; 10 percent were a combination of drugs; 8 percent involved “meth” or “ice”; and approximately 1 percent involved Exstasy.
“Crack cocaine and marijuana continue to remain the prevalent drugs within our region, however over the past few years we have seen an increase in the use of prescription medications,” said Thornton. “There are a lot of families that are suffering because of these drugs or because of addiction. It cuts across all races, all ages … it is something that we really have worked to stop. We would love to have all the drugs off the streets and the only way to do that is to keep hard at it.”
Which is why it is important for citizens to continue to call in suspicious activity in their neighborhoods. In fact, much of the information which generated potential suspects in the three recent undercover campaigns came directly from tips from those concerned citizens. The information was invaluable in identifying dealers and focusing enforcement resources, Thornton said.
“The entire reason we were able to have three successful campaigns goes back to the community involvement and information sharing,” he said. “Without information from the community, our efforts would be severely hampered. A lot of times we get calls and sometimes we can make quick arrests; other times, we can’t take immediate action without setting up surveillance or making an undercover buy in an operation … it takes time because we want the charges to stick. We have to be sure we have enough evidence to hold up in court.”
In relation to that, the officers and undercover agents spend countless hours working to make the campaigns successful because they know what is at stake.
“I am very proud of my staff,” Thornton said. “They are dedicated and focused on crime in this county and they all want to get the drugs off the streets. I can’t even begin to tell you how many man-hours were spent planning and executing these campaigns, because we will never know. My staff has worked diligently and have gone above and beyond to get these drugs off the streets. Look, I think that the citizens of Sampson County know that after 10 years know we are committed to fighting the drugs here and getting the dealers out of here. They can go anywhere else but not here.”
Thornton said that he will keep the campaigns going as long as the citizens keep standing up and reporting activity.
“We will do what it takes,” he said. “If people continue to call us and reporting it in their neighborhoods, we are going to protect them. No citizen should be afraid to report activity, that is what the dealers want you to do — they want you to fear them. That is the mindset, but people are discovering that we are going to follow up on every call and do what we can to stop it. I am not going to give up, put up or shut up until we eradicate drugs from this county. Believe me, I wish we didn’t have to worry about drugs, but the fact is we do and I am going to do everything in my power to get them out of the hands of our children’s hands.”
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or email to email@example.com.