A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives task force of local investigators has been cracking down on gun and gang violence for more than five years with positive results, an ATF spokesman said.
The ATF’s Regional Anti-Gang Enforcement task force was created locally several years ago to investigate violent criminal activity. The sheriffs’ offices in Richmond and Aiken counties, the North Augusta and Aiken departments of public safety and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division got involved, with each agency lending one or two investigators to help create the unit.
“There seemed to have been in that region a large contingency that would commit violence quickly using guns mostly,” said Earl Woodham, an ATF spokesman who covers North and South Carolina.
Task force members not only can cross state lines and into other jurisdictions without losing authority but they also have the ability to take cases federally.
“We predominantly look at federal first because you get more bang for your buck,” Woodham said. “Violent criminals who go through federal court get a better, longer, stiffer, more solid sentence for their violent crime.”
Aiken Public Safety’s Capt. Martin Sawyer, who was in the task force for about six years, said there’s “no doubt” word has circulated in the Aiken-Augusta area that an ATF task force is at work and bringing stiffer charges.
“People are scared to get federal time,” Sawyer said.
In the task force’s early days, the team worked two operations that took down major drug dealers who dealt in multiple jurisdictions.
“There was a total difference in crimes and drug sales after these people were arrested and given time,” Sawyer said. “Some of them are gone for 20 to 30 years.”
Last month, the task force completed a drug raid on Chesterfield Street in Aiken that resulted in six arrests.
Increased information-sharing among agencies was the top benefit all agencies listed when discussing the task force’s effect.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called those guys (in the task force) to ask them if they know anything about a suspect,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Dan Carrier, who spent two years in the unit. “The amount of information sharing going on is phenomenal.”
In one case he worked, the team’s collaboration helped him to identify a violent-crime suspect in less than 30 minutes.
Aiken County sheriff’s Capt. Eric Abdullah said crime trends weren’t always shared among jurisdictions before the task force. Now members are meeting and speaking frequently on trends, motives and crimes, which helps to locate suspects and solve crimes faster.
“If five agencies work together, they can get so much more than one agency alone,” Sawyer said.
Statistics on the task force-related arrests were not available.