Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks

Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks said that most of the crime with which he and his deputies deal is drug-related. Banks spoke Tuesday to the Greenwood Rotary Club.

Drugs are at the heart of most crimes in Leflore County, says Sheriff Ricky Banks, and they’re a major reason the law-enforcement agency he has headed for the past 40 years has grown from a couple of deputies to more than 20.

“The root of all of it is drugs,” Banks told the Greenwood Rotary Club Tuesday after citing statistics showing more than 300 crimes being committed in the county over the past 14 months, with almost three-fourths of them still unsolved.

Last week, he said, a joint law-enforcement operation of federal, state and local authorities made a dent in the drug war by arresting 10 individuals in the Greenwood area on federal drug-trafficking indictments. The names of those arrested during the two-day operation, which included two helicopters flying over the city doing surveillance, have not been released by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the lead agency on the sweep.

Banks said prior to the sweep, he had talked several times with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics about drug-related crime in the area. For four years, according to Banks, MBN responded that “the cake was in the oven but it’s not done yet. So this is what they did after four years, and I appreciate them doing it,” Banks said.

He would like such operations to become more common, but he believes MBN doesn’t have the staffing to deal with the magnitude of illicit drugs.

“We’ve got to have more help on the drug situation. The shootings that you’re seeing from these kids is all drug-related. Ninety percent of it is drug-related, and I don’t know how to stop it,” Banks said.

The 70-year-old sheriff, who made little mention to the Greenwood civic club of this year’s election, is running for an 11th term. An independent, Banks is being challenged for the third straight time by Demetrice Bedell, a 49-year-old Democrat who is chief of police for the Greenwood School District.

Banks said he understands the need for drug courts, which Mississippi has used for several years as an alternative to incarceration for offenders whose crimes are spurred by their addiction. The sheriff said, however, that he also sees offenders who manipulate the system and judges who don’t always enforce its no-tolerance provisions for continued drug use.

“I’m not blaming the system for drug court, but it looks like to me when you go up there and you test hot, then you ought to come spend some time with me,” he said.

Among the crimes that Banks is certain are related to drugs is burglary, and it’s also one of the most difficult to crack, he said. Over the past 14 months, the county experienced 148 burglaries, of which arrests were made in only 21, or 14 percent.

The sheriff himself has been twice the victim of a burglary, the most recent being a couple of years ago when a gun was stolen out of his vehicle parked at his home off Mississippi 430. The suspect in that case, a resident of Greenville, had broken into dozens of vehicles in three counties before he was nabbed in Itta  Bena. He is now serving a long prison term, according to Banks.

Bank said the suspect did not realize that a lawman was one of the victims until the sheriff put him in Banks’ SUV the morning after the arrest.

“You recognize that truck?” Banks recalled asking the thief.

“He looked around and said, ‘Oh, sh**.’”

Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or tkalich@gwcommonwealth.com.

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