2003 brought what some local law enforcement officials call an epidemic: homemade methamphetamine labs in our neighborhoods and on our roads.
A new task force has been created to crack down on the drug, frequently called the "new crack,” but what happens to these accused drug dealers once they're initially taken off the streets?
In 2003, Bay County law enforcement agencies charged at least 78 people with trafficking meth. Thirty four are still in the circuit court system, 44 have been decided on the state level. Of those decided, 31 percent have been picked up by federal agents. Thirteen percent have been dropped, either because of the filing of no information by the State Attorney's Office, or a lack of evidence.
Eighteen percent of those decided went to prison; all of them for five years or less, and 36 percent ended with a plea that resulted in the dealer receiving probation. This means about half are doing time, the other half received probation or nothing at all.
It's a fact that doesn't sit well with Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen.
"My primary concern is getting these people off the streets and into jail. Everyday we see things with cases that we certainly do not agree with through judges, attorneys or the judicial system, something we're not going to agree with everything that happens," says Sheriff McKeithen.
But those that have worked with the State Attorney's Office on these meth trafficking cases say sometimes the case isn't so cut and dry.
"From a prosecutor’s perspective it's important to know what they're doing with it. If they're selling the meth, then they need to go to prison for as long as they possible can. If on the other hand they're making meth for their own consumption, do we treat those people the same way we treat offenders selling it? And the answer is no, we don't. We treat each person according to their own conduct," says former State Prosecutor Steve Meadows.
A trafficking charged is based solely on the amount of methamphetamine found when an accused dealer is arrested. Law enforcement doesn't have to catch them in the act of selling to pin on a trafficking charge.
Next week we'll tell you how many dealers pick up where they left off once out of jail and on probation.