Kentucky police officer named to head Appalachia drug task force

A veteran Kentucky State Police officer has been chosen as the next head of a multistate drug task force headquartered in London.

Lt. Col. Joe Williams, 55, will take over as executive director of the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA, on Jan. 1, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey, who is chairman of the HIDTA board.

Williams will replace Frank Rapier, who is retiring after 46 years in law enforcement.

Williams has been in law enforcement 34 years, including 16 years supervising and directing drug investigations, according to the news release.

"Joe is a law enforcement leader of remarkable vision and commitment," Harvey said in a statement. "Joe understands the drug threats facing our communities."

The Appalachia HIDTA was established in 1998 and now covers about 70 counties in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia. It has an annual budget of about $7 million.

The agency receives federal money to pay for marijuana eradication; to pay for task forces made up of federal, state and local officers to investigate drug trafficking; and to collect and analyze information on drug threats.

One key goal is to break up drug-trafficking organizations. The Appalachia HIDTA helped break up 116 drug-trafficking and money-laundering organizations in 2010, according to its annual report.

The Appalachia HIDTA was first set up because the area of Central Appalachia it covers is one of the leading marijuana-production areas. It has since expanded to focus on other drug problems, including pervasive prescription-drug trafficking.

Appalachia HIDTA initiatives have won awards under Rapier's leadership.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell recently paid tribute to Rapier in a floor speech, saying he was a hard-working public servant whose efforts against drugs had saved lives.

"The work he's done for so many years has created a safer, stronger Kentucky," McConnell said.