Missouri Drug program may suffer under Bush budget cuts

Monday, February 18, 2008 | 1:51 p.m. CST; updated 3:55 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

KANSAS CITY (AP) — One of the first major disagreements over President Bush’s budget proposal could hurt Missouri’s efforts to fight methamphetamine.

Missouri, which has had more meth lab seizures than any other state in the country for more than a decade, depends on money from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program to fund its drug-fighting efforts.

Currently, the state gets almost $9 million from the program, with $6.3 million going to state law enforcement and $2.7 million to city and county police departments.

Last year, the president tried to kill the program. Under his current budget proposal, the program would get an extra $30 million for 2009, with a total budget of $200 million. Since 2002, the program’s funding has been cut from $900 million.

This year’s suggested funding is one-third the amount sought by Missouri Republican Sen. Kit Bond and Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.

Bond told The Kansas City Star that the Byrne program is “vital” and he criticized the budget because it “does not invest enough money to support our state and local law enforcement in their efforts to protect our communities from gangs, drugs and violent offenders.”

In 2007, Missouri police raided 1,285 meth labs, with Indiana second in the category with 620 labs. Missouri broke up more than 10 times the reported combined total of the 15 states with the lowest numbers. Kansas reported 98 lab seizures in 2003.

“Every year the Byrne grants are slashed, we run the risk of keeping more drugs and criminals on the street,” Harkin said.

If Missouri loses the almost $9 million it gets from the program, its current meth-fighting efforts “would just fold,” said Missouri State Highway Patrol Lt. Tim Rousset.

“The enforcement attention that we can bring to methamphetamine is largely due to the Byrne money,” Rousset said. “They wouldn’t be able to carry on. For my money, for watching things in the government, they get more bang for their buck out of Byrne than they do out of many, many, many things that they do.”

The Byrne grant program has been criticized by some lawmakers, who believe it has too little oversight. In 2005, the Office of Management and Budget said the Byrne program lacked goals, solid management and planning.

Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas is one of the Byrne program’s most persistent critics. She said drug task forces financed by Byrne grants have used racial profiling to pursue drug dealers.

The fund is named for Eddie Byrne, a rookie New York City police officer who was killed by two hit men hired by a drug lord as he sat on a stakeout in Queens on Feb. 26, 1988. His murder created enough anger to prompt New York City to begin a tough anti-drug response and lead to the formation of the fund to take the fight nationwide.

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