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Law enforcement official: Gangs, drug cartels are teaming up to transport narcotics into rural Tennessee

November 29, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Law enforcement official: Gangs, drug cartels are teaming up to transport narcotics into rural Tennessee

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A law enforcement official in Tennessee revealed that drug cartels are collaborating with local gangs to distribute drugs, leading to a spike in violent crime and exemplifying the need for new agents to combat the problem.

Mark Gwyn,  the Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, told The Tennessean that the latest surge of gang violence has inflicted a significant toll in rural areas in the state — probably due to the lack of robust law enforcement focus on gangs compared to bigger cities.

He advised Governor Bill Haslam on the problem during a budget hearing this month.

“A lot of gangs are just taking over small communities because there’s not as much resistance,” Gwyn stated. “There’s a big market these small towns, too. There’s a lot of people addicted.”

Gwyn said the increase in opioid abuse has supported the demand for drugs, and thus the growth in gang involvement.

“With the opioid epidemic comes the heroin issue,” he added. “It ties together.”

In an interview, Gwyn indicated that this was a trend across the U.S. that has taken root in the state in the last five years. It’s a change from a previous time that saw cartels handle drug transportation and distribution on their own.

TBI data revealed that 384 drug-related gang offenses were reported across the state in 2011. Last year, that number was 438, an increase of 14%.

The change brings complexity to the state’s long-running fight against gang violence, as Gwyn said the drug-related crimes likely result in more violent crimes overall.

Gwyn requested that Haslam approve the extension of 25 TBI drug agents, a proposal made by a legislative task force formed to combat the state’s opioid epidemic. Those agents would be dispatched to communities where a growing gang presence is suspected.

Gwyn said the TBI would examine local data to detect gang activity, looking for signs like increases in aggravated assaults and other violent crimes. Although he would not reveal specific locations the TBI might target, he did tell the governor the problem was especially pronounced in the rural western part of the state.

Law enforcement specialists said the shift in the drug cartels business model is based on opportunity rather than strategy. Cartels are not associated with any single gang or group.

Authorities in Tennessee seized 44 pounds of cocaine from a vehicle traveling from Houston, Texas and destined for Cleveland, Tennessee in October

“They’ll partner with anybody who will move product,” Christopher Tersigni, an assistant special agent in charge with the U.S. DEA, said. “It’s all about the greed.”

Tersigni emphasized that the model he notices in Tennessee is not a straight line, and if drugs end up in the hands of a gang, it might not be deliberate. Narcotics provided by drug cartels can go through several sources before they reach an individual customer.

Sometimes, informal gangs will come about to take advantage of the increase of drugs and cash.

“Some of them are home-grown,” Gwyn added. “Just a group decides, ‘We’re gonna be a gang today.’ ”

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