The weeklong training session (Jan. 7-11) will be held at FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va., made possible through class slots provided by the Lookout Mountain Judicial Drug Task Force.
Previously, only members of the Drug Task Force were eligible for the training, but this particular class will be attended by four individuals, including deputies Donnie Brown and Alan Ellenburg from the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, Lt. Randy Hicks of the LaFayette Police Department and investigator Scott Jordan from Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office.
“(Officers) learn how to wear the proper equipment, render the meth lab safe and most importantly how to dismantle a clandestine meth lab,” said Pat Doyle, commander of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Drug Task Force.
The training is free to the selected local agencies involved, paid for by federal Homeland Security tax dollars.
“Meth lab cleanup is expensive, but it is something that has to be done,” LaFayette public safety director Benji Clift said. “It is going to be a benefit to have somebody on staff that’s been certified recently.” Captain Stacey Meeks, with the LaFayette Police Department, had attended the training 10 years ago when he was a DTF agent.
The methods of contending with meth and its disposal have changed dramatically recently, partially due to the expense, according to Clift.
Even though meth use is on the decline locally, the entire process of dealing with meth is now handled by law enforcement as opposed to the specialized private firms that were previously hired to clean up meth labs, according to officials.
“The average lab we work ranges in (cleanup) costs from $2,500 to $5,000 apiece, and some of the bigger ones can be as much as $10,000,” Doyle said.
That federal reimbursement ended in 2011. “When that happened we immediately started looking at options,” he said. Cleanup of meth labs in 2011 could have cost $85,000 alone, under the previous system.
A new hazardous materials container plan utilized in Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky has been adopted locally, and sharply reduces the cost of meth component disposal.
An approved explosion-resistant steel hazardous materials container is located at an undisclosed site, in which the separated components of meth labs are stored until a scheduled incineration. For 2011, the 31 meth labs’ actual cost was $1,064 due to the new containment concept, according to Doyle.
“Not only did we save money, we no longer have to wait six to eight hours for a cleanup crew to come in,” he said.
The Lookout Mountain Drug Task Force also has a specially equipped vehicle to transport those components to the new container. Agents dealt with 31 meth labs in the region during 2011 of the 130 reported in Georgia last year, according to Doyle.
He believes that the task force will contend with an increased number of meth labs for the current year, due to arrests already made and ongoing investigations currently under way, anticipating as many as 40 meth labs to contend with.
“We have gained the interest of several state agencies,” Doyle said, as the Lookout Mountain Judicial District Task Force is the first agency in Georgia to adopt the container program. “There is a strong interest on expanding this program around the state.”
He estimates that using the new concept would have cost $5,000 to have processed the 130 meth labs that Georgia officials disposed of in 2011.
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council just approved $500,000 for meth lab cleanup, according to Doyle.
“If (CJCC) instituted a program like this statewide, there would be some huge savings,” he said.