THOMASVILLE — Expressing concern about recent shootings, a shooting death and the level of gun violence in the city, a Thomasville City Council member told fellow council members Monday the buck stops with the council.

“I do applaud the efforts that have been made by our police department and in particular Chief (Troy) Rich’s newest call for increased manpower in the most troublesome areas of the city during ‘peak’ crime times,” Council member David Hufstetler said in a written statement.

Most, if not all of the recent level of violent crimes is, related to the illicit drug trade, according to the statement.

The buck stops, he stated, with city council doing everything necessary to provide for the safety and security of residents, regardless of where they live.

“I would respectfully suggest that we, the council, have not done all we can do in this regard,” Hufstetler stated.

Specifically, Hufstetler wrote that he is referring to lack of city participation in the city-county drug enforcement unit — the Thomas County/Thomasville Narcotics/Vice Division.

“Law enforcement is arguably the most important task any law enforcement agency is tasked with, and my very strong opinion is that it is not a task that you can simply ‘throw money at,’ which is what we have done since around 2017,” he said. “We have somehow evolved from absolute full engagement/participation with the hands-on, front-line assault on the drug traffickers by means of full participation both physically and financially, including providing sworn, fully-trained motivated Thomasville PD officers to staff the city-county drug squad, to the present where we have ‘washed our hands’ of this effort and simply write a check for half the budget of the drug squad at either the beginning or end of each year.”

Hufstetler’s statement said the situation, in his opinion, is not acceptable.

“As a matter of fact,” he stated, “it is personally embarrassing. The city-county drug squad was first formed in 1980 and was designed specifically as a joint investigative unit with equal personnel assigned from the sheriff’s office and the police department. That was a successful formula for 37 years.”

Hufstetler was the first Thomasville-Thomas County Drug Squad commander. He served from 1980 to 1992, and had a law enforcement career spanning 15 years.

“And so I do have a degree of hands-on experience in this field,” the council member stated.

He said police department personnel were “pulled” from the drug squad during a former city manager’s tenure.

It was only during the past city manager’s tenure that police department personnel were “pulled” from that effort — “a huge mistake that to date still begs for a reasonable explanation if one exists,” Hufstetler stated.

“The time has come for this council to respond to this crisis,” he added. “It makes all the sense in the world that we, via our police department, re-engage on the front lines of this drug enforcement effort by fully supporting the city-county drug squad by providing half the personnel with our own highly-motivated, trained officers. It will only encourage more camaraderie, cooperation and communication between all personnel of both agencies, which will be much to the chagrin of any drug dealers who want to ply their trade in our community. My hope is this council, working with our city manager and chief of police, can began to quickly accomplish this effort.”

City and Thomas County governments each pay half of the drug squad’s annual budget, which this year is $614,095.

Thomasville City Manager Alan Carson said no city employee will make any comments concerning this.

Louis Schofill, narcotics/vice commander, said the sheriff’s office also is concerned about the rising level of crimes within the Thomasville city limits.

“We are working diligently to identify and arrest the offenders. We have good agents working in the narcotics unit, and we work hard,” he said. “We agree that working together would be best. Unfortunately, the current Thomasville Police Department’s administration’s policies and actions prohibit this from occurring at this time.”

Schofill said the agency had a great working relationship for 37 years under three past administrations. He worked as a drug agent while employed as a city police officer under the two past chiefs.

“It was a good working relationship back then,” Schofill said, “but that good working relationship ended in 2017, under the current administration. We welcome further discussion on this matter and appreciate (Mr.) Hufstetler for addressing this problem and hopefully finding a way to fix it.”

In addition to a commander, the narcotics/vice division has six agents. All are Thomas County Sheriff’s Office employees.

“Some people are willing to try anything but law enforcement,” Thomas County Sheriff Carlton Powell said. “Programs do not take the place of doing your job in law enforcement.”

Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820