Citizen’s Police Academy Week 4: Narcotics and Gangs

This week the LaGrange Police Department Citizen’s Police Academy covered topics that are sadly becoming a part of life: drugs and gangs.

The class went over current drug and gang issues as well as ways police are attempting to help eliminate both.

The lesson was taught by Sgt. Mark Cavender of the LaGrange Police Department. Cavender has been working “Vice” cases for LPD for over two decades and has seen changes in the way drug and gang issues have been handled over the years.

The drug law enforcement sees most often in La-Grange is as one might expect: marijuana. While some states have legalized marijuana for personal or medical use, Georgia has not. So until something changes, people in LaGrange will still be taken to jail for marijuana possession.

More serious drugs, like methamphetamine and cocaine, are also bought and sold in LaGrange. Meth is currently on an upswing, while cocaine is on a slight downward trend.

Police say at one time most of the methamphetamine in LaGrange was made locally, but crackdowns on pseudoephedrine sales have stopped most local meth labs. Most methamphetamine these days comes into LaGrange from Mexico through Atlanta.

The biggest increase in drug activity is from opioids. Whether prescription pill based or heroin based, opioid abuse is increasing in the United States and La-Grange is no exception. Opioid overdose has become a national epidemic.

Police are doing their part by working with lawmakers to allow them to carry overdose medication, but doctors need to be far more careful in prescribing strong pain medication. Many heroin users get addicted to pain medication that they initially legitimately get from doctors.

Cavender also discussed the ongoing local gang problem. He said that one of the biggest steps toward helping with the situation was admitting that LaGrange actually has a gang problem. For years police told local judges and city officials that gangs are becoming a problem in LaGrange, but the warnings were denied. Now that the gang problem is being acknowledged, it’s improving a bit. Over the last half decade, LaGrange has averaged about 30 gang related incidents. In 2017, there were only 10. That doesn’t mean the gang problem has been fixed, but it does seem to indicate that something is working.

Police attribute this drop to increased prosecution and community involvement.

In recent years, the City of LaGrange has led the state in gang related prosecutions. Cavender says this isn’t because we have more gangs; it’s because we are doing something about the gangs we have.

Things started to change after a gang related shooting in Calumet Park injured several innocent bystanders at a large community gathering. Police, city officials, and community members took notice and said that they weren’t going to idly stand by anymore.

Police, with the help of the district attorney’s office, began prosecuting gang offenders under specific gang laws. These laws allow related convictions to be served consecutively and most importantly, in jail without probation.

The local community also stepped up and told the gangs that they are not going to be afraid anymore by holding unity events in gang afflicted areas.

Police note that we still have a bad gang problem, but steps being taken are working. About 75 percent of all violent crime in Troup County can be attributed to gang activity.

The four nationally based gangs in LaGrange are Gangster Disciples, Ghost Faces, a white supremacist gang; Bloods, and Crips. There are also some smaller non affiliated gangs.