Long before the technology industry took off and made Silicon Valley one of the wealthiest regions in the country, an unlikely small town approximately 30 miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee, was in that discussion.
An industrial town, Dalton is commonly referred to as the “Carpet Capital of the World” or the “First Lady of Carpet.” It is home to several carpet and flooring industry corporations such as Mohawk, Shaw Industries and Engineered Floors, among others. In the 1970s, Dalton had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States.
The blue collar mentality the area prides itself on extends far beyond the walls of the many factories in the town of approximately 30,000. It’s evident in the work of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Dalton field office.
HSI Dalton started as a quick response team under the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, as it was located along I-75, one of the major human smuggling routes in the south. Currently made up of a Resident Agent in Charge (RAC), three special agents and one mission support specialist, HSI Dalton primarily investigates child exploitation, document and benefit fraud and sextortion cases.
Most cases HSI Dalton makes are federal instead of state.. Like other small field offices, HSI Dalton relies on the relationships developed with its state and local partners to augment work power. The office has a great working relationship with its ERO partners and with HSI Chattanooga nearby, the two offices work together on cases that overlap both areas of responsibility. However, in most instances, the responsibility begins and ends with the individual special agents.
HSI Atlanta Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) Robert Andrews stated: “We always had a small office up there in Dalton since the late 90s. They do a great job, being as far away from Atlanta as they are, in making the best use of their resources.”
While the office is small in numbers, it’s big in experience. According to Webb, all HSI Dalton special agents are at least 40 years old and had prior law enforcement experience prior to joining ICE. In a smaller field office, having special agents who are law enforcement veterans, know what they’re doing and have a great reputation with local partners are vital to the overall success of the agency and help the smaller field offices run smoothly and keep making cases.
“When you have that experience at a major SAC office, you understand how the big machine works and you get exposure to a lot of different folks with a lot of experiences and they’re able to handle that,” Webb said. “Here in Dalton, as the cases come in, it would be a big distraction to have to keep someone up to speed.”
One of those experienced agents, Special Agent James Rives, was recently honored by the Northern District of Georgia’s Office of the U.S. Attorney for his hard work, dedication and attention to detail in several impactful child exploitation investigations. Rives was one of the recipients of the U.S. Attorney’s Awards in the major crimes category and was the only “stand-alone” award recipient honored in any of the investigative award categories.
“Jim Rives has developed a lot of relationships with the locals around here and the detectives that deal with Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC),” Webb said. “In doing so, he’s been called on the front lines of these investigations as well as other special agents here.”
The comradery of the office doesn’t end with the work on investigations. The staff enjoys hunting and fishing in the area and good banter during college football season. For Webb, working in Dalton is especially gratifying as he started his law enforcement career as a police officer in Gainesville, Georgia, and worked with ASAC Andrews on a task force while with INS. The family atmosphere and solid relationships makes HSI Dalton a success.
“I’m blessed to have this group and I could work beside them because of the relationship we have,” Webb said. “It’s pretty rare to get back anywhere close to your home, but I was able to do it. I’ve come full circle and I’m loving it.”