THOMASVILLE — A letter sent Tuesday via certified mail to local officials expresses several areas of concern about the Thomas County-Thomasville Narcotics/Vice Division.
The letter from the Thomas County Branch of the NAACP was sent to Thomas County commissioners, Thomasville City Council members, city and county managers, Thomasville Police Chief Troy Rich and Thomas County Sheriff Carlton Powell.
The letter was read by Lucinda Brown, local NAACP branch president, to city council members and other city officials at a Monday council meeting.
The letter states that in recent years, Thomas County residents have expressed concerns about the local drug squad.
"Our organization has made requests to the leadership of the drug squad for concessions regarding excessive use of force and high-speed vehicle chases in our neighborhoods while delivering drug enforcement services to the citizens of Thomas County," the letter states.
In response to community concerns, members of the local NAACP branch began attending drug squad commission meetings, the letter states, adding that after several meetings where those attending expressed public concerns about the conduct of drug agents, the meetings were abruptly canceled.
The letter states, "To our knowledge, the public is no longer allowed to attend the meetings. The cancellation of these public meetings, without notice or explanation, is very disappointing and disturbing."
The commission referred to in the letter is described in a city-county memorandum of understanding as the Thomas County-Thomas County Drug Squad Advisory Council.
It is comprised of:
• Thomas County sheriff
• Thomasville police chief
• Local district attorney
• Two Thomasville City Council members
• Two Thomas County commissioners
The Feb. 2, 2016, memorandum of understanding — signed by the sheriff and police chief — establishes a drug task force known as the Thomas County-Thomasville Drug Squad.
The document states: "The Thomas County-Thomasville Drug Squad Advisory Council shall meet once monthly, and all council members will be notified of the date, time and place of the meeting by the drug squad staff assistant."
The NAACP letter states that because public meetings were discontinued and the appearance of no accountability to the community, "we are reaching out to the two funding organizations to request public meetings or hearings to revisit the terms, conditions and mission of the drug squad intergovernmental agreement."
City and county governments fund the drug unit's annual budget.
"We cannot in good conscience continue to support the funding of the drug squad without any public oversight or accountability. Its mission is too vital and potentially hazardous to not have public oversight," the letter states.
It continues that the local NAACP branch recommends public meetings begin as soon as possible "to rethink how this community is served as it pertains to drug enforcement. The meetings allow for a comprehensive review of the mission of our drug squad."
The letter states that the NAACP review comes at a time when many local and state entities are deciding whether to continue funding local drug squads and/or how to redirect resources used to fund the agencies.
"We encourage a change to new 21st century strategies in the fight against drugs and vices plaguing our community. The current drug squad agreement needs to be revised immediately to address these issues," the letter states.
The NAACP branch offers assistance to ensure the public "is getting the best law enforcement available in our quest for fair, equal response and treatment as we rid the community of illegal drugs."
Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820