COLUMBUS – The joint Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office/Columbus Police Department drug task force is operational, with the first two officers from the city joining late last week, according to LCSO Captain Archie Williams.

The task force was approved by the Columbus City Council and the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 31. It will eventually include eight officers – four each from CPD and the LCSO. To begin with, only two officers from CPD will be assigned, but the other two will come on board later this year.

The task force is already making a difference, said LCSO Captain Archie Williams, who commands the unit. “Things are going really well so far,” he said. “Their first day with us was last Thursday, and over Thursday and Friday we made three arrests, including an arrest for cocaine and for intimidating a witness.”

The task force is working to get the new officers trained up, he said. 

“We are looking into some schools to send them to, but mostly it’s on-the-job training,” he said. “They will go on call-outs with the current officers and get a feel for the work. There’s a lot that goes into it, from simple possession to complete cases and handling evidence. Many cases are very complex.”

Williams said that CPD provided the sheriff’s office with a list of candidates and that he and Sheriff Mike Arledge called the best prospects in for interviews.

“(CPD Chief Oscar Lewis) gave us a list of candidates, and recommendations were based on prior work experience and their interest in doing narcotics work,” Williams said. “We also looked at their report-writing skills, because that is one of the most important skills they can have. The reports that they write will be used in circuit and even federal court.”

Interviews were conducted by Williams, Arledge and the other narcotics team members.

“We did it as a round table,” Williams said. “We want everyone to be involved, because they see each other more than they see their families sometimes.”

They then voted on who they wanted, Williams said.

There isn’t a solid timetable for bringing on the final two officers from the city, Williams said.

“We’ll see how busy we are and how quickly they grasp the job,” he said.

“We’ll wait and see how it goes,” said Arledge. “CPD is short on officers and we want to give them the opportunity to hire more and not hurt their manpower. We’ll probably ask for an interview pool in the next couple of months. Right now we’re focusing on getting the new officers accustomed to the process and getting them trained.”

Williams said that he thinks the majority of crime in the city is drug-related.

“I’d say at least 80 percent of the crime in the city is tied to drugs,’” he said. “Some of the criminal element needs money to support their habit, and some of the same criminal element are low-level dealers themselves.”

There was formerly a metro narcotics task force in Lowndes County. It was founded in 2007 and disbanded in 2012 after a dispute arose between Arledge and then-CPD Chief Selvain McQueen over an officer assignment. It included six officers – three each from the city and county. The newly formed task force is controlled by Arledge and Williams, and all new officers must be unanimously approved by the current ones. The CPD chief, the city council and the board of supervisors will be hands-off.