Dr. Lee Banton: Celebrating excellence in local law enforcement

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2023

On Feb. 1, the United States Justice Department announced the publication of the second volume of The National Firearms Commerce and Trafficking Assessment. That document should get the attention of everyone because of the huge increase in gun violence which has taken place throughout the United States. In 2021, United States Attorney General Merrick Garland, directed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to undertake the first comprehensive study of criminal gun trafficking in more than twenty-years.

The Director of ATF, Steven Dettelbach, stated their report “provides more information on America’s crime guns than has ever been compiled in a single publication.”

A key statistic is the “time-to-crime” which relates to the last known retail sale of a specific firearm to when it was recovered at a crime scene. Shorter time-to-crime periods indicate illegal trafficking… a crucial piece of intelligence for investigators.

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Statistics from 2017 to 2021 revealed that 25% of the 366,000 traced crime guns had a time-to-crime of less than one year and 46% had a time-to-crime of three years or less. Most of the 72% traced crime guns were recovered in the same state in which they were acquired from a Federal Firearms Licensee and that 1,023,538 firearms were stolen from private citizens which made up 96 percent of “all” firearms reported stolen during that time period.

The report states that (1) 70% of “likely trafficked guns in New York originated in what is referred to as the “Iron Pipeline” which runs along the I-95 corridor. (2) 95% were handguns which is the most used weapon in the commission of crimes. (3) The top three states from which those guns came were 15% from Virginia, 13% from Georgia, and 13% from Pennsylvania. These states were “net exporters” of crime guns and lacking in the prevention of illegal diversion. All other states along I-95 provided about 2% of New York’s combined trafficked guns.

The importance of the seizure of the 22 firearms during the Epps, Hodges, and Ellington joint investigation should be easily understood by everyone given the previously cited statistics by the ATF and Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Richmond’s WTVR reported 14 months ago that the drug “fentanyl” had killed approximately 2,000 Virginians in 2021. Excellent vigilance by Sheriff Epps, Sheriff Hodges, and Police Chief Ellington has reduced opportunities for local illegal and deadly drug activity.

Dr. Rosie Hobron, a forensic epidemiologist with the Office the Virginia Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, stated that drug overdose deaths were up by 15 % in Virginia. Fentanyl, “a powerful synthetic opioid”, contributed to 76.5 % of all opioid overdose deaths in Virginia and has proven to be deadly because an extremely small amount can be fatal.

Given that Southside Virginia’s Black/ Brown population is approximately 32%, an analysis of Fentanyl’s deadly impact on this segment of our local population is a valid inquiry. A sample of recent national headlines from 2017 to 2022 should be extremely alarming. Four of those headlines were: (1) Fentanyl-Related Deaths Are Surging in Black Americans, (2) Fentanyl Opioid Has Black Americans Dying in Record Numbers. (3) U.S. Fentanyl Deaths Are Rising Fastest Among African Americans. (4) Fentanyl Drug Overdose-Deaths Are Up for American African Americans.

Fentanyl is also a deadly threat to unsuspecting parents and every member of their family because they could be exposed to fentanyl in some accidental manner. Just like unsuspecting parents, Police Officers and Emergency First Responders assisting those who require medical treatment are “always” in extreme danger because fentanyl could be accidently ingested orally, inhaled through the nose or mouth, or absorbed through the skin or eyes as they carry out their Emergency Service duties.

The citizens of Prince Edward County, Cumberland County, and The Town of Farmville should be thankful that their local Law Enforcement Agencies have developed excellent programs, such as DARE, which have a “Focus on School Safety and Drug Awareness” for all children. Also, Sheriff Epps, Sheriff Hodges, and Police Chief Ellington are providing leadership in the development of a regional effort for Standardizing Effective Rapid Responses to an “Active Shooter” situation on school grounds.

Someone has said that the quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves. Accordingly, we need to acknowledge the superb contributions of the brave men and women of (1) The Prince Edward County Sheriffs’ Department (2) The Cumberland County Sheriffs’ Department and (3) The Farmville Police Department because they stand behind the thin ‘Blue Line” and have always put their community first. This excellent joint cooperative police investigation may have saved an incalculable number of lives in our community.

Everyone should take time to say…. “Thank You for A Job Well-Done!” to Sheriff Epps, Sheriff Hodges, and Police Chief Ellington.

DR. LEE BANTON is professor emeritus at Longwood University, past president of the Piedmont Planning District and past president of the Virginia School Boards Association. He can be reached via email at cbanton541@gmail.com.