That’s the best way to quell drug use in Macon County, he said.
“What better evidence do you have than an officer being able to testify that, ‘I bought 20 oxycontin off this individual?’” Holland said. “There’s no better evidence than that.”
The alternative, he said, is to invest huge numbers of man-hours observing suspicious locations or people and making vehicle stops. And it’s hard to make those tactics pay off, because officers need probable cause to stop a vehicle; for the same reason, many times they can’t actually search a house where they suspect drugs are being sold. Undercover drug buys, on the other hand, make an ironclad case.
To prove his point, Holland refers to a methamphetamine ring operating in Macon, Jackson and Swain counties that his agency helped bust in 2011. It resulted in a federal investigation that put more than 10 people in jail, and not one of those cases went to trial. Instead, they opted to work out plea deals. The ringleader, Michael Taylor, agreed to a decades-long sentence in federal prison.
“For an individual to plead guilty, he knows you have a pretty darn good case against him,” Holland said.
By increasing the funds he has available to pursue undercover investigations, Holland hopes to save taxpayer money in the long run. Those savings would come through reducing the need for substance abuse programs, through cutting out the cost of taking a case to trial and by reallocating the man-hours it would otherwise take his deputies to wrap up a case.
“Give me two years. We’ll be able to account for every dime that $20,000 goes to,” Holland told commissioners. “At the end of two years, if we have not shown progression in what we use that $20,000 for, take it away.”
Among other counties in the region, Holland is not alone in his desire for more funds for undercover drug busts. Haywood County, for example, allocated $4,600 in 2013-14 for undercover drug buys, and Swain County allocates $3,000 per year. And Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran isn’t shy about saying he needs more to be effective.
“Three thousand bucks, that’ll make you three, four buys and that’s it,” he said.
With limited money available for buys, sheriffs have to make choices about which leads to pursue.
“There’s cases at least a couple times a week. We have to decide whether we’re going to initiate that case or not,” Holland told commissioners. “Ninety-nine percent of the time the reason we don’t initiate the case is because we don’t have the money to initiate that investigation.”
Commissioners will consider that request as they head into budgeting season for 2014-15.
“I would not be asking for this $20,000 if, based on my experience in law enforcement, I didn’t think if would be a benefit to the community,” Holland said.