Robin Carroll, prosecuting attorney for the 13th Judicial District, was the guest speaker at the Civitan Club's meeting Thursday afternoon. His remarks centered on the role his office plays in community safety and progress.
Carroll said his office oversees Calhoun, Cleveland , Columbia , Dallas , Ouachita and Union counties, adding that the 13th district is greater in square miles than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
“I have a hard job, but it's a meaningful job,” he said. “Everyday, I get to do something meaningful in the community, whether it's putting somebody in jail if they need it or giving somebody a second chance.”
He said his job is made easier by his staff, the judges at the circuit court level and the “fine work” done by the district's law enforcement offices.
“Sheriff Jones and Chief Ricky Roberts are assets to our community,” said Carroll. “With the El Dorado Police Department and the Union County Sheriff's Office, we have some of the finest law enforcement officers anywhere.”
Carroll said his office serves 117,000 people with 13 deputy prosecutors who share his passion for his mission statement: “Seek justice, serve justice, do justice.”
The duties of Carroll's office are to assist crime victims, handle hot checks, advise counties on legal issues, involuntary commitments, prosecute cases, participate in drug court and handle civil drug forfeitures in all six counties of the 13th district.
In addition, said Carroll, he works closely with the district's Drug Task Force to combat the area's drug problems, a fight that has been affected by federal cuts to the “Burn program.”
“We started out with 10, now we have four people on that staff, two agents, a director and a secretary who handles all the paperwork,” he said. “That's not the police, just the DTF, and we are making a dent in the drug trade. I'm very proud of the work they've done.”
In 2007, according to Carroll, there were 314 cases opened, 121 arrests, 156 charges filed and $122,536 in drugs seized by the DTF. In addition, 26 weapons and $128,702 in cash were seized, with $93,178 disbursed to area law enforcement agencies.
Carroll also spoke on the problem of illegal immigration, although he said the primary problem with illegal immigrants is not illegal employment, but the illegal drug trade.
“They make the drugs in Central America down there, sneak it into the U.S. and package it up and send it through places like FedEx and UPS,” said Carroll. “We seized 32 pounds of marijuana and a pound of cocaine that was shipped into Camden last year from south Texas . It was worth as much as $70,000 on the street, and it came through the mail.”
He said that several drug seizures were made in 2007, including 64.5 lbs. of marijuana, 18 marijuana plants, 1 pound 4.3 ounces of cocaine, 11.73 ounces of meth and 407 ecstasy tablets.
Carroll said the decrease in the number of methamphetamines is due to federal restrictions on certain ingredients necessary to its production.
“The restrictions on the ingredients to make meth has made a huge impact. You hardly ever see a meth lab in South Arkansas anymore. There might be somebody making it for personal use or for a buddy, but it's nothing like it used to be,” said Carroll.
Carroll also remarked on the success of the auction in October of last year in which more than 80 vehicles seized from drug dealers were sold to the public. He said 206 people registered to bid in the auction and more than 100 showed up “just to look and watch.”
He said he often hears people remark that drugs should be made legal and taxed, but Carroll said he believes that his office already does that.
“Do you really think drug dealers are going to do their paperwork and their withholdings? Of course not,” said Carroll. “We don't just take 10 percent, we take it all. We take everything they have and use it to fund our operations to get more drugs off the street.”
Carroll said the drug trade has “immeasurable” effects on society and that there is “no solution in sight without societal change,” which must include “better choices and more hope” for the community's young people.
He invited residents of the 13th District to access his website, www.arkprosecutor13.com, to learn more about the services provided by his office. One of those services was of great assistance to a local woman recently, he said.
“It was a lady with three kids in daycare, and she did a search of sex offenders through our site and found out there was a Level IV sex offender living right across the street from the daycare,” said Carroll. “We turned that information over to law enforcement, and they made him move.”
Other services available on his website include crime reporting, paying checks online, contact information for all offices and public education.
Carroll also promoted a government program that he hopes will be of use to the area. The “Operation Weed and Seed” program makes up to $1 million available for communities to address “the things that we know need to be done here,” said Carroll.
He plans to apply for the grant in 2009, he said.
In a question and answer period following his remarks, Carroll was asked how much the county received in hot checks last year. He replied that the amount was approximately $5 million.
“If Wal-Mart used us to prosecute their hot checks, it would be more like $10 million, but they use their own service,” he said.
Another audience member asked Carroll how long it takes to clean up a known drug area, but Carroll said that an answer is not easy to give for such situations.
“I personally have witnessed drug deals taking place at a certain house here, but unless you have a confidential informant, someone who's been in trouble before and is working with us, to go in there and get the information we need, it's almost impossible for us to do anything about it,” he said.
Also at the meeting, club member Jim Goad received an award for 50 years of service to the Civitans.
The Civitan Club will meet again Feb. 28 for “Clergy Day.” Jim Polk will be the speaker.