To help combat drug-related and violent crime in the area, law enforcement members from The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg Police Department, Petal Police Department, Forrest County Sheriff’s Office and Perry County Sheriff’s Office have partnered together to form the 12thCircuit Court Task Force Metro Team.
The formation of the team was announced Oct. 15 by 12th District Attorney Lin Carter during a news conference at the Mississippi State University Extension facility on Sullivan Drive.
“Everybody has joined in to the metro agreement for the purpose of fighting gang violence, and fighting the sale and distribution of controlled substances,” Carter said. “As you can tell from recent events, there have been a lot of violent activities in Hattiesburg; a lot of that is from gangs and drugs, and that’s got to stop.
“Therefore, these agencies have joined together to fight that. In addition to their normal patrol, we’ve got a special unit that is going to be in place because of this agreement to fight violent crime. I can tell you that we’re going to do our best to get them off our streets, rid of our community of this violence, and send them to prison for as long as possible.”
Each sheriff or chief will be responsible for determining how many officers take part in the task force, depending on manpower at any given agency.
“It’s not only personnel, but it’s other things that agencies can bring to the table,” Forrest County Sheriff Charlie Sims said. “Through intelligence, through analysis, things of that nature, it’s a coordinated effort.
“It’s not just about boots on the ground; there’s a lot of other variables that come into play, and these agencies can assist with that. (Carter) will be the lead on all these cases and determine whether it stays in state or goes to federal.”
Sims said a metro task force does exist in the area, but it formerly comprised only Forrest County and Hattiesburg.
“Drugs and crime, they go beyond that, so each agency head was very excited about becoming a part of metro,” he said. “In this area, we’ve seized over 13,000 grams of illegal narcotics, from meth, marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin and other prescription drugs.
“It’s here, and unfortunately, there are a lot of folks that are dealing this stuff to our community, and we’ve got to stop it. What we find is that metro, when it works together, it’s responsible for about 89% of the drugs and firearms that are received. Our other agencies combined are only getting about 12% of this stuff.”
Petal Police Chief Matthew Hiatt said when Sims reached out to Petal officers in regard to joining the task force, the offer was eagerly accepted.
“My message, as your chief in Petal, to those who are out there doing illegal gang activity and drug activity, we’re going to come after you,” Hiatt said. “It will not be tolerated in the City of Petal, and we’re going to do everything we can, as officers of the City of Petal, to assist each and every agency behind us in this joint effort.”