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Sheriff, challenger talk drug concerns & explain to voters how they would address them

The race for Jefferson County Sheriff pits current sheriff Zena Stephens against challenger David Odom.

Democratic candidate Stephens and Republican candidate Odom each have more than three decades of experience in law enforcement and both feel they know what’s best for the county.

One issue both spoke about is illegal drugs and the crimes associated with the drug use.

Odom, 52, of Nederland spent all of his 31 years in law enforcement in Nederland. He said the streets are not as safe as they should be.

Drugs are taking over our communities, and crime is out of control,” Odom said. “I feel that law enforcement officers need a strong backing from their administration in these desperate times.”

The veteran officer noted the rise of methamphetamines as a law enforcement officer. Meth is the current trending drug.

“They went through different periods, it used to be, when it first started, marijuana, then the pill epidemic came in, everyone was abusing the pills,” he said. “Then bath salt and synthetic marijuana came into play. Every now and then we would see some meth and see some heroin, but toward the end of my career it seemed like every week we were getting some meth cases; that was just what I saw in Nederland and in the Mid-County area.”

He also learned that meth is a bad problem even in Nome.

To better tackle the problem, Odom said the drug task force needs to be stronger to combat what he feels is an out-of-control drug problem in Jefferson County.

The task force included members from each of the local cities working together, but it is not as aggressive as it used to be, he said.

“We used to work with the task force on their “buy bust deal, where they would stop a car and ID a person so the undercover officer wouldn’t be exposed,” he said. “Once in a blue moon we still do that but it’s not as aggressive as it has been.”

Odom said there are other ways to deal with the drug problem — the Dream Center. The nonprofit organization takes people in voluntarily who want help with addiction and try to steer them in the right direction to overcome the addiction, he said.

Odom spent six years in the U.S. Marine Corps including time as a military police officer before going to the academy and being hired in Nederland by then-Chief Billy Neal.

Stephens, 55, of Fannett, said when she became sheriff in 2016 the department joined the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA, that was created by Congress. She said this provides resources through a partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration, local cities and more.

“We do undercover buys in the community with them, we intercept and have information from state and local partners and have intercepted meth and other drugs,” Stephens said. “We send and receive law enforcement intelligence about meth and other drugs in our community.”

Stephens cited statistics showing property crimes are down for 2016 through 2019 and are down in 2020 as well, though this year is hard to interpret due to people staying home because of COVID-19.

The price of meth has increased and the availability has decreased all due to the pandemic, she said.

The sheriff’s office also works with the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force that she said provides more assistance in working cases.

The county can work a wire tap on what are usually large distributors of narcotics.

These criminals are usually well organized and the investigation is similar to the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO Act, but more along the lines of narcotics.

Important dates

  • Last day to register to vote to cast ballot in upcoming election — Oct. 5
  • Early voting dates — Oct. 13 to Oct. 30
  • Election Day — Nov. 3