By Rupert Howell
Panola County’s Chief Sheriff Deputy Otis Griffin said last Friday that he doesn’t want citizens to think that the Panola Narcotics Task Force is not doing its job following statements made during recent City of Batesville budget meetings.
Griffin questioned figures reported from those meetings and produced statistics provided to his office from Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale covering the last four years indicating the Panola Narcotics Task Force lead all other agencies in cases presented to the Panola County grand jury.
City of Batesville Police officials, including Chief Tony Jones and Assistant Chief Don Province, have recommended that the City not support financially the task force and use the funding to help balance the city’s budget and to increase drug enforcement within the city. The city currently has one officer serving on the task force and an $80,000 annual contribution.
Panola County Sheriff Hugh “Shot” Bright said Monday that the Panola County Narcotics Task Force will stay in position and will still work drug cases in Batesville. Bright also noted that figures provided by the DA’s office included felony charges only and would not include misdemeanor possession charges that fall into the jurisdiction of Municipal or Justice Courts.
The BPD top brass said in an earlier budget meeting that additional funding of the city’s special operations unit could better be used in Batesville to fight drugs.
Griffin expressed concern about the two agencies “running over each other” when trying to set up drug buys and arrests.
“It won’t take the criminal long to learn how to work one against the other,” he said. “Once they find out we are not on the same page . . . they can start to play one against the other. To me its all about a team effort,” Griffin emphasized
Figures provided to The Panolian by the DA’s office through the chief deputy Griffin indicated that of 690 cases going before the Panola County grand jury from 2006 through June of this year, the Panola Narcotics Task Force handled 485 or 70 percent county-wide.
The City of Batesville handled 12 percent or 84 of those cases and other agencies including Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, Mississippi Highway Patrol, Mississippi Department of Corrections and Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks handled the remaining 18 percent. Often the agencies work together in making a case.
For 2009 through June of this year in Panola County’s Second Judicial District, which includes approximately everything south of the Tallahatchie River, figures provided indicate that the task force handled 44 of 74 cases that went before the grand jury.
Twenty-two cases were handled by Batesville Police Department.