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Narcotics unit to get new leader

A new head of the Lafayette County Metro Narcotics Unit has been selected and now it’s up to Oxford’s city leaders for final approval.

Oxford Police Chief Joey East said a control board has selected Rodney “Rod” Waller as the top pick for the unit’s chief after a couple month-long search. East said Waller’s approval is likely just a formality and the mayor and Board of Aldermen will be on board.

“He was hand-picked,” East said. “We had four interested. One backed out, and it came down to three. We interviewed and we sat on it and discussed it and it’s been a couple-month process. We’ve taken our time and feel like we’ve picked the best.”

Waller started his career in 1983 with Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics as an agent and sergeant and then was hired by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as a special agent in 1991. From 1991 to 1997, Waller was assigned to the Oxford Resident Office and was responsible for the development of multi-defendant and multi-jurisdictional cases and worked closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. During that time he was the case agent on two cases that resulted in two organization heads receiving life sentences without the possibility of parole. From 1998 to 2001, he was with the agency in Brazil.

Since 2001, Waller has been in the Memphis Resident Office and has spearheaded the seizure of significant amounts of drugs and has further developed his skills on developing successful cases.

East said he expects Waller to take the helm Jan. 1 of the entity that has served the University of Mississippi, the city and the county to combat drugs since 1988.

“I am happy to be nominated as the new commander of the narcotics unit in Lafayette County,” Waller said. “I learned of this opportunity as I was finishing my career with the Drug Enforcement Administration. I am truly excited about the possibility of returning to my second home in Oxford, as I went to school at Ole Miss and worked in the area early in my career. I look forward to working for the people of Lafayette County and representing them in a professional manner.”

Lafayette County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Scott Mills said the goal was to pick someone with credentials and experience for the position.

“We feel like he has a lot of top qualifications,” he said. “We’re very excited about getting the unit back off the ground and getting Rod in and we’re looking forward to working with him.”

If confirmed Tuesday during the Board of Aldermen meeting, Waller will come in to an agency that has faced intense scrutiny prior to its former leader, Keith Davis, resigning in September.

An interim leader, Alex Farmer, has done a “top-notched job,” keeping everything operational, Mills said.

“The big thing now is that the drug unit uses college students to be informants,” East said about 18- through 21-year-olds. “Some attorneys are saying probably young people shouldn’t be used for informants, but that’s a debate they can have for the rest of the existence of law enforcement. We do best practices here. We feel like when Mr. Waller comes in, he will look at the practices, see if that’s something they do on a federal level and if that works at the state level.”

Buzzfeed.com launched reports on that issue, which sparked the Lafayette County Libertarian Party to send a letter to state officials this spring calling for the “immediate disbandment” of the Lafayette County Metro Narcotics Unit, because of its use of students as informants in lieu of felony drug charges.

East said other debates that have surfaced recently include the amounts of marijuana found on residents and students and what should constitute a felony.

“We have a simple job. We don’t make the law. We simply enforce the law that the state implements,” East said. “For us, we have discretion, but when you’re talking about felony amounts of drugs, we don’t really have discretion.”