By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
An elite multi-jurisdictional law enforcement unit, known as the Bell County Organized Crime Unit, is now up and running at Killeen Police Department's North Precinct.
The unit, once known as the Central Texas Narcotics Task Force, aims to tackle one of the most common type of crimes committed in Killeen: property crimes.
The Organized Crime Unit will still investigate narcotics crimes, but has now had its investigative scope widened to include high-level property crimes. It was renamed and moved to Killeen on Oct. 1.
For the unit's commander, Harker Heights Police Department Sgt. Jerry Dugger, integrating property crimes into the unit goes hand in hand with what the narcotics task force used to investigate.
"A lot of the burglaries are directly drug-related," Dugger said. "They are very much connected to property crime and always have been."
Going after organizations
The new unit will use the same investigative techniques as the narcotics task force to help solve property crimes that might have been committed in an organized fashion.
Dugger said he could not go into specifics about those methods because they might jeopardize ongoing and future investigations.
"The big thing that I can tell you where we are different from other investigative agencies is that we are more proactive in so far as we don't work cases. We are proactive in identifying organizations and going after them," he said.
Dugger did say the group sometimes performs undercover investigations and has some high-level surveillance equipment. He did not elaborate.
Investigations that might have ended with a drug bust in the narcotics task force will now be pursued further, Dugger said.
"A lot of drugs can involve stolen property. In the past, we didn't go back down the train investigating where they got that property. We do now," he said.
The Central Texas Narcotics Task Force came into existence in the early 1990s. At its outset, the Temple-based group included officers from agencies in Bell, Milam and Coryell counties.
The group eventually evolved into a more local task force. Though it still retained an officer from the Copperas Cove Police Department, the task force largely consisted of officers from Bell County departments.
Today, the unit has at least one officer from police departments in Harker Heights, Killeen, Copperas Cove, Temple and Belton, and from the Bell County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Dan Smith serves as the director of the unit. Each officer is assigned full-time to the unit.
The group is also guided by a board of directors consisting of police chiefs from each involved agency.
Officers assigned to the Organized Crime Unit are not there for training purposes, Dugger said. They are seasoned investigators.
"It's not an assignment where detectives go to learn. It's a place where experienced investigators go to work," Dugger said.
During a Community Forum at the Killeen Police Department, burglaries were the No. 1 topic brought up by Killeen residents.
KPD Chief Dennis Baldwin referred to the Organized Crime Unit several times, noting that even though it is a multi-jurisdictional organization, it still brings seven additional officers to Killeen.
"They're based out of here, so I think we'll see a real benefit here in Killeen," Baldwin said.
The unit has been authorized to operate in all jurisdictions in Bell County and Copperas Cove. Beyond that, it retains the typical powers of a police department, Dugger said.
The unit's role in drug investigations won't be diminished.
"We are not out of the narcotics business in any way, shape or form," Dugger said.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.