After about 17 years in operation, the Multi-Agency Crack Enforcement Drug Task Force likely will disband this summer.
The narcotics investigation division was formed by the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office and Hinesville Police Department in 1995 to investigate violations of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act in Hinesville and Liberty County, according to the LCSO website.
In 2011, MACE investigated 123 drug cases in the county and 245 cases within Hinesville limits, Sheriff Steve C. Sikes said.
The group also has worked in conjunction with Fort Stewart Military Police and the Criminal Investigation Division, and the Long County Sheriff’s Office was part of the agency for a short time.
The division has operated with about $250,000 in annual federal grant funds, but when Long County pulled out of the group six months ago, the population for Hinesville and Liberty County was not large enough to qualify for the grant, Sikes said.
“We were rejected because we no longer meet the criteria of a tri-county MACE team,” Sikes said. “So, as a result of that, I’ve talked with Chief (George) Stagmeier (and) I felt like we could form our own drug team and probably do a more effective job with the county side of that investigative team.”
He added that it is more financially feasible to split, but that both the sheriff’s office and Hinesville police intend to cooperate on investigations and share equipment as needed.
Hinesville Police Department Chief George Stagmeier said funding was a major factor in the decision to disband, but that they tried to find alternative ways to keep the unit together before coming to the agreement.
The number of agents on the team has fluctuated at times due to changes in funding, but Stagmeier said he believes currently there are three sworn officers from each entity dedicated to the task force.
The HPD will continue to operate some sort of task force, though the specifics of how the change will play out have yet to be determined.
“This is a little bit early to be talking a lot about it,” Stagmeier said. “The details haven’t been hammered out, on equipment, when we’re coming back.”
The county also will operate its own task force, and officials are looking into modular offices that could be placed on the site of the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office on Airport Road, Sikes said.
The disbanding likely will take effect when the joint-lease contract for MACE’s current facility expires in June or July.
As part of the disbanding, both groups will have to determine how they are going to split equipment purchased with MACE funds.
Sikes said some of the equipment is on loan from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and will be returned.
Both Sikes and Stagmeier said they anticipate “a 50-50 split” on any remaining funds or equipment.
Both agencies have used their own vehicles for MACE duties.