Proposal threatens anti-drug efforts

A federal grant that provides
75 percent of drug task-force funding is in danger of being cut.
Tuesday, July 26, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:42 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

A Bush administration plan to cut millions in federal money for state drug task forces would be devastating to mid-Missouri drug prevention efforts, law enforcement officials say.

The president has announced plans to cut $634 million in federal funding provided for drug task forces through the Byrne Grant program in fiscal 2006, which begins Sept. 1.

The Mid-Missouri Unified Strike Team and Narcotics Group, known as MUSTANG, a drug task force made up of eight mid-Missouri law enforcement agencies including the Columbia Police Department and Boone County Sheriff’s Department, received $271,000 from the Byrne Grant program in 2004 and 2005, according to the Missouri Department of Public Safety.

Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm, president of MUSTANG’s board of directors, said funding cuts to the program could render the task force useless and severely hinder drug prevention efforts in the state’s rural areas.

“We would be hurt,” Boehm said. “There’s no doubt about that. But, to smaller jurisdictions, like Fulton and Boonville, the cuts would hurt worse. Since they don’t have the staff to house a drug unit, this task force is essential.”

The Columbia Police Department provides one detective to the MUSTANG task force, Boehm said. Federal money funds six other officers, along with office space, vehicles, informant money and the storage and disposal of lab waste for meth seizures, Boehm said.

“It would be devastating to us,” Boehm said. “I’m not saying we couldn’t survive it, but it would be tough.”

Capt. Terry Everett, head of the Mid-Missouri Drug Task Force, a group of six sheriff’s departments surrounding Boone County, said 75 percent of his group’s funding comes from the Byrne Grant program. The other 25 percent comes from a 2-year program the task force applied for through the Missouri Sheriff’s Methamphetamine Relief Team, or MoSMART. That program received similar cuts last year, losing about $1 million in federal funding between 2004 and 2005.

“A majority of the money goes toward the salaries of our deputies,” Everett said. “When we lose that money, we lose those deputies. Without it, we can’t exist.”

Karen Gramlisch, a spokeswoman for MoSMART, said chances were slim to none that any state drug task force would receive as much funding from the organization as they have in the past.

“Right now we have 18 task forces wanting $100,000 a piece,” Gramlisch said. “We have about $980,000 in funding. It’s just not going to happen.”

A Senate committee has voted to restore all of the money to the Byrne Grant program, but a House committee has recommended that only about 60 percent of the cuts be restored.

Eric Shepherd, public safety manager for the Missouri Department of Public Safety, said money for Missouri drug task forces was also eliminated in 2005, but later restored to $6.8 million, down from $9.5 million in 2004. Shepherd said that even if funding is partially restored for 2006, the state’s drug task forces will most likely incur a substantial hit.

“Since we heard about the cuts, we’ve been having constituents call up their congressmen, asking for the cuts to be restored,” Shepherd said. “It’s been tough. We’re not sure how it’s going to turn out.”

The president’s Office of National Drug Control Policy has justified the cuts by saying the Byrne Grant program has drifted away from its original intent of focusing on the worst problems. Now, officials say, the Byrne grants and funding for the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program 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,” Tom Riley, a spokesman for the office said.

A portion of this report first aired Monday during the “ABC 17 News at 10.”

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