Officers say drug hot spots rotate through areas

Richmond County narcotics investigators often see a cycle in drug-infested neighborhoods.

"The standard has been that you arrest them in one location and then (the others) pack up and move to a different location and bring in new soldiers," said Lt. Scott Gay of the Crime Suppression Unit.

East Augusta-- including East Boundary, Bethlehem and parts of Olde Town -- currently tops the Richmond County list as the most crime-saturated area, Gay said.

Harrisburg, Barton Village and Woodlake, off Windsor Spring Road, fall closely behind.

From January to August, Richmond County narcotics officers arrested 1,096 people on drug-related charges.

Gay said crack cocaine appears to be the drug of choice in Richmond County, with marijuana ranked next. Meth, which is on the rise in the county, is third.

Including only major seizures, authorities have confiscated 15 kilos of cocaine, 38 pounds of marijuana and 108 marijuana plants in 2010, and uncovered 20 meth labs.

In 1999, the county received a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to target neighborhoods overrun with crime. Although Gay said neighborhoods such as Barton Village were benefiting from the Weed and Seed Initiative, the grant expired in 2005.

Authorities now rely on training from the program to crack down on Augusta's problem areas.

"We go into an area and we look for any violation and make charges, whether it be somebody not wearing a seat belt or we catch someone in possession," Gay said.

In 2009, officers used those skills to clean up the Augusta Super Inn on Gordon Highway. Deputies received five to six complaints daily, ranging from theft to drug use, at the inn, Gay said. After the sheriff's office joined forces with the licensing, fire and health departments, the inn was condemned in December 2009 because of code violations.

In the past two years, Gay said, officers used the same model to do sweeps at Red Carpet Inn, Augusta Lodge and Riverside Inn, all on Gordon Highway.

In 2007, Columbia County officers used a different strategy to clean up King Villa, off Washington Road in Appling.

Lt. Sharif Chochol, of the Columbia County sheriff's Special Operations Unit, said the neighborhood was overrun with drug activity, loitering and abandoned residences. Trash was scattered throughout the streets.

After officers moved in and eliminated the drug activity, they called on the community to clean up the rest.

"We had dumpsters brought in," Chochol said of the multiday cleanup. "We got in there with the community and really cleaned up. It went way beyond just the criminal activity part of it. We were in there cutting grass."

Columbia County investigators would not discuss current problematic neighborhoods or strategies because of ongoing investigations.

Slightly more than 200 people have been arrested on narcotics charges this year through August, Chochol said. Marijuana is the most commonly recovered drug, with others running a close second.

Reporting drug activity

RICHMOND COUNTY

Tips can be left anonymously on augustaga.gov under the Richmond County Sheriff's Office's Investigation page; at (706) 828-DRUG or at (866) 939-5050.

COLUMBIA COUNTY

Tips can be left anonymously at (706) 541-2800 or (706) 541-1044.