- Associated Press - Sunday, June 24, 2018

EGYPT, Ark. (AP) - When Joy Lingo built a home in Egypt in 1979, the town was quiet.

With a church and the homes of several families nearby, she thought it would stay that way. But the rising tide of narcotics abuse in Arkansas hasn’t spared the small town.

Across the state, drug use has become more prevalent.

In Egypt, those who sought to traffic illegal substances have taken advantage of its location away from major highways and, over time, Lingo watched neighbors’ homes become places she wouldn’t let her kids walk by.

“We’ve had the neatest little public park, but it got to where people didn’t want to let their kids go down there because people were pulling in and doing their drug deals,” she said. “It’s obvious from the traffic there, and the paraphernalia that’s been found by children.”

And the town’s small police force would chase the traffickers and dealers, but, after time, criminals learned when the cops worked and when they were off duty, meaning the drug flow in and through town could go on uninterrupted. The town hasn’t been able to pay officers to work as much as the job requires, leaving them unable to work certain hours when known criminals could be active.

Lingo said that changed late last year when the town hired Gerald Goza as police chief. Goza is the three-man department’s only full-time employee, but he started the job working an uneven schedule - alternating days and hours to keep traffickers on their toes.

“He came in with a passion for drug enforcement,” Lingo said of Goza.

The strategy, coupled with a stricter crackdown on users and dealers, helped the department see early success. By Goza’s count, they’ve made 10 major stops since he took over, the Jonesboro Sun reported.

“I’ve found meth and ecstasy and marijuana,” he said. “It’s an ongoing problem everywhere, but I think people are coming through these small towns to avoid the bigger towns and their cops.

“Those stops are drugs and paraphernalia,” he said, laying out a set of photos of the contraband on a table at the police station.

The photos will be used in court, where the department has vowed to make every effort to make sure offenders are charged to the fullest extent of the law.

“When I took over as chief, one of my goals was drugs,” Goza said. “It’s zero-tolerance to any type of drugs coming through Egypt. I don’t bend on drugs. If anyone comes through, and they’ve got a pipe or any drugs, I don’t bend on it. We’re going to charge them.”

And those stops have helped with lingering issues in the rest of the town, Lingo said.

“We just don’t see it as much anymore,” she said. “I’m not going to say it’s all gone, but it’s been cleaned up.”

Part of that is due to the department’s schedule, Goza said, which now keeps an officer on call just about 24/7. But a bigger part is the attitude of the town’s 130 residents.

In his time as chief, Goza said he’s seen support for policing in the town increase. That includes residents watching his back while he’s out on a traffic stop and taking part however they can in his stakeouts.

“I can park in just about anybody’s driveway because they appreciate the police being here,” he said. “They want their town back.”

“It’s a group effort. We’ve had help from the (Craighead County) Sheriff’s Office, Bono (Police) and the (Second Judicial District Drug Task Force). It’s from the citizens who see something and give us a tip.”

On a late spring afternoon at the public park in Egypt, kids were playing. That’s becoming a more common sight, Lingo said, with several of the larger traffickers either behind bars or hesitant to return to Egypt.

“I think the words gotten out that Egypt isn’t a free run anymore,” she said. “You never know when (Goza‘s) going to be out on patrol.”

As long as drugs continue to enter the county, Goza said the region will have problems with them. It’s a big war for a small town to fight, but, he said, Egypt can say, “not here.”

“There’s not ever going to be a win (on drugs),” he said. “As long as people are on them, there’s not going to be a win. But we can deter what comes through our town. The people will take back their town.”

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Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, http://www.jonesborosun.com

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