United States Eastern District Attorney Robert Higdon Jr. announced the government’s intentions Wednesday at media briefings in Elizabeth City, Ahoskie and Henderson.
The plans include a renewed push to use the congressionally funded Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative.
“I’m excited about this initiative,” District Attorney Valerie Mitchell Asbell told those gathered at the Ahoskie media briefing. “I think we need to take back North Carolina.”
When she started as DA, “In the year 2000 we were doing OCDEFT and they were fast, swift and effective in 2000 so I’m very happy about this initiative.”
The Down East Drug Task Force, which comprises all the counties in District 6 with the exception of Halifax, is onboard as well, she said. “We have good law enforcement in this district. The Down East Drug Task Force are a group of hardworking (officers) who are out there taking back North Carolina. They’re taking back Hertford, Bertie and Northampton county. I think the collaborative is what we will need to do because sometimes federal penalties are stiffer.”
Asbell, like Higdon said during the briefing, the aim of the more aggressive push is not fill up jails. “What we’re trying to do is drop down the crime rate and take drug dealers off the street that make their money off the backs of drug addicts. When we stop with the drug dealers we’ll stop the drug overdoses and we’ll stop the deaths. I am fully committed and devoted to this effort.”
Asbell in Halifax County has assigned Assistant District Attorney Keith Werner to work on these cases and Lisa Coltrain and Kim Scott to work those cases in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton.
Hertford County Sheriff Dexter Hayes said, “I see the effects when we have partnerships and we have a lot of backing when it comes to working our streets and keeping our families safe, our kids safe.”
Hayes said his officers and the task force share a common goal — “To make sure our streets are safe.”
Ahoskie police Chief Troy Fitzhugh told those assembled, “We are working here together to make these streets and the community safer.”
Northampton County Sheriff Jack Smith praised the efforts of the Down East task force in the initiative. “This task force is very important. They are truly professional and Johnny on the spot.”
John Holley, Bertie County sheriff, said, “I’m glad we can work together.”
Referring to the task force, he said, “They’ve made over 300 drug arrests. We’ve had a 32 percent percent overall decrease in crime. In some areas it is as much as 62 percent.”
Ahoskie Police Department Major Jimmy Asbell, who also serves as commander of the Down East task force, said he was appreciative of the federal government’s commitment.
Roanoke Rapids police Chief Chuck Hasty said, “I love that the U.S. Attorney’s office is partnering with local law enforcement and the elected DA to work on these cases to get the most violent and repeat offenders off the streets and sharing information with each other.”
Hasty said working collectively is more effective. “One idea isn’t always the best. If you get multiple ideas we can get the job done better.”