Cuts feared for anti-drug efforts

Proposed budget cuts worry local drug enforcement officials.
Thursday, July 21, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:17 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

KANSAS CITY — A plan to cut money currently provided for local drug enforcement has officials in Missouri and Kansas worried it could hamstring their efforts to corral methamphetamine use.

The Bush Administration wants to eliminate $634 million now provided through the Byrne Grant program for drug task forces and cut funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, which targets the most drug-infested areas, from $227 million to $100 million.

The president’s Office of National Drug Control Policy said the two programs have drifted from their original intent of focusing on the worst problems. Now, officials say, money from the programs go to a wide range of law enforcement efforts.

“We are trying to put our resources into programs that are focused and accountable, and there has been a concern for a number of years about focus in a program like that,” said Tom Riley, a spokesman for the office.

Members of Congress don’t appear to agree. A Senate committee has agreed to put back almost all the money for the Byrne grants, while the House wants to restore about two-thirds of the money. Both chambers are on track to restore the HIDTA program.

But law enforcement in Missouri and Kansas are still wary and say that money can’t be replaced, especially for task forces rooting out meth labs in rural and urban areas.

“That’s where the meth problem is being fought; that’s the trenches,” said Maj. James Keathley, commander of the Missouri Highway Patrol Criminal Investigation Bureau and president of the Alliance of State Drug Enforcement Agencies.

Keathley said the Byrne grants pay for all but a couple of the state’s 30 drug task forces and are especially important in rural areas with limited tax bases. Both programs pay for

Please see METH, page 8A

investigators, chemists and crime scene analysts.

“If this funding goes away and the public calls to report a meth lab, I don’t know who is going to take it down,” he said.

The Mid-Missouri Unified Strike Team and Narcotics Group, or MUSTANG, a drug task force made up of six mid-Missouri law enforcement agencies, received a $271,000 Byrne grant in March 2004. The MU Police Department received $44,000.

Missouri has led the nation for the last four years in meth lab and equipment seizures, recording 2,788 last year alone. The state receives about $9 million from the Byrne grants and about $5 million from HIDTA.

In Kansas, task force members have taken the issue into their own hands. Crawford County Sheriff Sandy Horton, chairman of the Southeast Kansas Drug Enforcement Task Force, which covers six counties, has talked to state lawmakers about the potential effect of the cuts.

“It’s pretty scary for us right now,” Horton said, adding that without Byrne and HIDTA money, “the likelihood of the task force continuing would be pretty nil.”

In 2004, he said the task force provided 44 percent of the state’s 583 meth lab busts. That’s down from the 900 busts seen in 2001, but officers still must deal with the drug and its effects on other types of crime, such as burglary.

Kansas this year will receive $3.3 million in federal Justice Assistance Grants, which are a combination of Byrne and other grants, said Kansas Highway Patrol Lt. John Eickhorn.

Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance in Washington, said he doesn’t buy the “doom-and-gloom hysteria” from law enforcement. He said too much federal money is being spent on low-level drug users and the states should increase treatment programs and go after major dealers instead.

“As long as the states don’t have to pay the full cost of the criminal justice system, they are never going to have to consider reform,” Piper said.

Missourian staff writer Derek Kravitz contributed to this report.

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