The Georgia Department of Agriculture is bringing back its law enforcement arm, and the new head, Harlan Proveaux, wants his officers to be the Peach State’s go-to on all aspects of agricultural crime.
“Animal cruelty cases, drugs and agriculture arena, agro-terrorism, those type things, we want to be the subject matter experts,” Proveaux told the USA Today Network. “So when all local law enforcement has those type cases, we’re a resource that they can call that will come in and support them with investigation and prosecution of those type cases.”
The Department of Agriculture, which oversees Georgia’s largest economic sector, last had law enforcement powers in 2013. Agricultural Commissioner Tyler Harper, who was sworn in this year, has re-instated them, with Proveaux joining the department as the inspector general and director of the Law Enforcement & Emergency Management Division. Proveaux’s most recent job was in the Georgia Department of Emergency Management and Homeland security.
“The opportunity here gives me a chance to combine both my emergency management experience and my law enforcement experience in this role, which was very intriguing to me,” he said.
Proveaux said he hopes to have 10 sworn officers, depending on what the General Assembly tasks his office with. These officers will be separate from the department’s current inspectors who enforce civil violations, which means Proveaux’s officers will not be investigating issues like soil amendments, another recent area of focus of the agency (the general assembly appropriated $550,000 in the budget this year for two additional soil amendment enforcement inspectors).
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But that does not mean that the officers will not be working with other employees of the agency.
“The law enforcement division is unique in the Department of Agriculture as we’re our support division,” he said. “We support every other division in the Department of Ag, so that inspectors when when they go out, if they run into something that’s unlawful … then they can turn that over to us.”
There will be at least one federally-funded officer focused solely on labor trafficking, an issue that came to the forefront in recent years with the Blooming Onion case brought by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of Georgia in late 2021, one of the largest labor trafficking cases ever prosecuted involving foreign agricultural laborers brought here on seasonal visas.
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“The feds, the state, (Georgia Bureau of Investigation), the Department of Agriculture have partnered together to create a task force, and we’re going to support that, the Feds are going support us in putting a person on that task force to pay attention,” Proveaux said. “We don’t want folks that are being trafficked to work … happening in our state. So we’re going to concentrate on that to make sure it doesn’t.”
Proveaux also thinks the officers can cross train with emergency management staff for when natural disasters strike. He said they’ve already begun having conversations with outside agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources and local government in Forest Park, which hosts a major farmer’s market.
“There’s no law enforcement agency, federal, state, (or) local, that we’re not talking to and joining forces with,” he said.