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'War on drugs' battle continues in Halifax County

Although President Barack Obama has deemed the phrase “war on drugs” as “counter productive,” law enforcement officers here continue the fight to rid this community of drug dealers and their illicit trade.


History of ‘war on drugs’

In 1971 former United States President Richard Nixon coined the phrase “war on drugs” in an effort to define and reduce illegal drug trade in the United States.

Over the years the federal government, along with state and local law enforcement agencies have sought ways to combat the drug trade by making and enforcing new laws to discourage the production, distribution and consumption of drugs and to put dealers behind bars.

On May 13, 2009, Gil Kerlikowske, the current director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, signaled that although it did not plan to significantly alter drug enforcement policy, the Obama administration would no longer use the term “war on drugs,” claiming it is “counter-productive.” 

Whether or not it is called an official “war on drugs,” law enforcement agencies in Halifax County have not slowed their efforts to combat drugs in this community.

Seeing progress?

Some agree progress has been made, while others are quick to disagree.

Acting Halifax Police Chief David Irby said he finds it difficult to see where law enforcement has made much progress in the war against drugs.

According to Irby, penalties for drug dealing do not suit the crimes.

“We don’t have anything restricting the flow of narcotics into the country,” Irby said. “There is just not enough regulations, laws and manpower.”

On the other hand, former Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Kim White takes quite a different stance on the war on drugs saying progress has been made.

She maintains the violence associated with the drug trade has decreased, and drug prosecutions have increased over the years.

“Here in Halifax County there was an era where we had a lot of gun violence associated with the drug trade. I think because our law enforcement is aggressive and well-versed in the trade, they have lessened a lot of that violence. While I’d like to stop the drug trade completely, at least if we can stop some of the violence associated with it, we’re making some progress,” White said.

Sheriff Fred Clark, Capt. B. K. Lovelace and Task Force Coordinator Jay George agree some progress has been made in combating the drug trade here.

 “The task force is doing an outstanding job, and they are making progress. People have not seen it yet, but they will,” Clark said.

Capt. Lovelace said since he began work in South Boston in 1994, he has seen changes in the drug trade with areas like Westside and College Street becoming “a little more safer.”

According to George, county open-air drug markets have decreased over the years taking numerous drug dealers off the streets.


Reducing drug activity

 Clark said some of the steps the sheriff’s office has taken to reduce drug crime include increasing patrols to deter crime as a whole and focusing heavily on the areas where they have gotten complaints of specific drug activity or suspicious activity.

Lovelace said South Boston police officers have taken similar steps.

According to George, the task force is making more drug buys and arrests in order to combat the drug trade. 

Clark, Lovelace and George agree that traffic stops, home searches and the use of canine units are the most effective ways to detect drug possession.


Interesting experiences

Each law enforcement officer has his own interesting experience to talk about involving searches, traffic stops and drug busts.

Irby recalled one time when he stopped a man for speeding, he asked the man for his license and saw the man sporting a joint behind his ear.

Obviously he had forgotten it was there. 

Irby said he asked the man if he had any drugs in his possession, and the man replied, “no.”

It was then the officer pointed out the joint behind the man’s ear. 

At that moment, Irby said, the look on the man’s face was “priceless.”

Irby described the episode as one of the funniest drug busts he has ever experienced.

He also recalled one of the biggest drug cases ever investigated in the Town of Halifax. The investigation was connected to the murder of Tony Canada.  

A .44-magnum handgun and a freezer bag full of weed were recovered during this investigation, Irby said, but an arrest has yet to be made.

 Lovelace recalled a time in 2009 when he responded to a domestic violence call. The wife was so angry with her husband that when they arrived on the scene, she told authorities her husband had drugs stashed in the house resulting in a drug investigation and the seizure of $17,000 in cash.

Former Investigator J. D. Clay of the county sheriff’s office remembered an instance when a confidential source informed on a suspected drug dealer resulting in the arrest of a Scottsburg man who had $25,000 in a sandwich bag and a kilo of cocaine in his possession.

George and taskforce member Michael McGregor recalled a particular drug bust in 2010 on the border of Halifax and Pittsylvania counties that resulted in the seizure of more than 200 pounds of marijuana, a couple of kilos of cocaine and $90,000 in cash.


Weird hiding places

Local authorities agreed they have found drugs and paraphernalia in some of the weirdest, nastiest and most creative places including hidden car compartments and body cavities.

Irby said some women have been known to even hide the drugs in their hair. 

He also has found drugs hidden in tires and shaving cans.

The former commonwealth’s attorney recalled cases where drugs were hidden in a baby’s diaper, cake flour jars and spice jars.

Vehicle pursuits, ingesting the drugs and flushing drugs down the toilet are some of the lengths to which people are willing to go to get rid of evidence, authorities said.


Memorable prosecutions

The former commonwealth’s attorney recalled some memorable prosecutions she has had involving drug dealers.

One particular prosecution that stands out in her mind occurred a number of years ago around the time Virginia enacted the Drug King-Pin Statute which called for life in prison for those drug dealers who distributed certain amounts of drugs over a period time.

Halifax County had the first conviction under that statute in Virginia.

She prosecuted one man who headed a prescription drug operation and had drug addicts stealing televisions, video equipment and tools for him. He would pay them with prescription drugs, White said.


Working together in the schools

Local law enforcement agencies work with the prosecutor’s office to implement programs in schools aimed at reducing drug activity and gang violence.

White said she has gone to schools and talked with students about the effects and consequences of drug abuse. 

South Boston Police have made similar efforts while enforcing drugs searches at the middle school and high school.

 White, Lovelace, Clark and George all agree the most popular drug found in the schools is marijuana.


Most prevalent drugs

The most prevalent drugs used in Halifax County are marijuana, crack, powder cocaine and prescriptions drugs.

 According to White and local law enforcement authorities, the use of prescription pain killers like Vicodin, Darvocet, Oxycodone and Hydrocodone is on the rise because these drugs are so easy to get.

Since January 2011, Halifax police officers have made three arrests for possession of prescription drugs without a prescription, Irby said. 

George said illegal possession of prescription drugs has made up 15 percent of their cases since 2008.

Marijuana has made up 15 percent of their cases since 2008, and $4,857,500 was seized in marijuana plants last year.

According to Lovelace, South Boston police had 33 marijuana possession arrests in 2009, 36 in 2010 and 30 in 2011. Five arrests were made for the distribution and sale of marijuana in 2009, and eight in 2010 and 2011.

Authorities in the Town of Halifax have made 12 arrests for marijuana possession since January 2011 and one arrest for possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, Irby said.

According to Clark, since 2008 the sheriff’s department has made 163 arrests for possession of marijuana and 120 arrests for possession of Schedule I and II controlled substances.

Cocaine arrests account for 65 percent of the task force’s cases since 2008, George said.

Irby said one arrest was made for cocaine possession in the Town of Halifax since January of 2011.  South Boston had three arrests for crack and three for cocaine in 2009, seven for cocaine and two for crack in 2010, and 10 for cocaine in 2011.

Methamphetamine and Ecstasy arrests make up only five percent of task force cases since 2008, according to George. 

Lovelace said other drugs, pills in particular, accounted for five arrests in 2009, three in 2010 and eight in 2011.


Bath salts newest drug on scene

 Local law enforcement authorities said drugs continue to flow into Halifax County from area jurisdictions, other states and into the country from Europe and other foreign countries.

According to authorities, bath salts, the newest drug to hit the streets, also is now found in Halifax County.

According to George, authorities have yet to make an arrest for possession of bath salts noting its presence “isn’t that large.”

 Irby explained bath salts are a synthetic stimulant powder that gives users sensations similar to that of meth.

 Sheriff Clark said the drug can be injected, smoked, inhaled, snorted or ingested.

George, Lovelace and McGregor said bath salts can cause elevated body temperature, elevated heart rate, altered mental state, psychosis and suicidal feelings.

Investigator Clay explained the drug tends to make people think things are crawling under their skin and cause them to pick their skin off.

Certain forms of the drug are illegal in Virginia, but authorities say changes in the chemical make up of the drug can make some forms of the drug legal.


Changes in drug trade over years

Local authorities agree the drug trade has changed over the years, and technology has played a large role in these changes.

The use of cell phones has changed drug culture making it much harder for law enforcement, according to George, McGregor and Lovelace. 

Before cell phones, dealers were forced to use pay phones and pagers.

Clay said although open-air drug markets have declined leaving fewer dealers on the streets, these days dealers handle their transactions via cell phones.


Increase in break-ins 

to fund drug habits

Local law enforcement authorities said the rise in break-ins is directly connected to drug use and the depressed economy.

They can tell whether the thief is stealing to buy drugs or just for the money depending on what is stolen.

Drug dealers usually go for the quick turn over items like lawn mowers and tools, authorities agreed.


Be alert

Local law enforcement authorities encourage citizens to report any suspicious activity in their neighborhood.

Things citizen should watch for include excessive traffic going in and out of a residence over a short period of time, secret conversations or transactions and if people are in the area who usually aren’t in that area.

Local law enforcement authorities said the majority of people arrested for drugs are men ranging in age from 18 to in their 30s. The race of those arrested depends largely on the type of drug being sold, demographics and location of the arrests, local law enforcement authorities agreed.

Officers realize they can never claim complete victory in the  proverbial war on drugs with new drugs and dealers constantly emerging, but each agreed they will never stop waging the battle to eradicate illegal drugs from their communities.