[u]War on drugs takes hit[/u]
Congress approves cuts to money for drug eradication programs
By STACY L. NEITZEL
Glasgow Daily Times
Deep cuts last week by the federal government to the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program have left drug task force operations nationwide in peril.
Congress approved the Omnibus Appropriations bill, signed into law by President Bush, which cut funding for drug eradication programs by nearly 68 percent.
Slashed by $350 million, only $170 million has been budgeted for 2008. That number is down from $520 million last year. The grant funds 14 drug task force units statewide, including the Barren-Edmonson DTF.
In an e-mail to law enforcement agencies, Ronald E. Brooks, president of the National Narcotic Officers Associations Coalition, called it ï¿½??the worst crisis facing drug law enforcement since the creation of the NNOAC.ï¿½??
ï¿½??This budget may succeed in killing drug enforcement programs in most parts of the country,ï¿½?? Brooks said.
ï¿½??Itï¿½??s going to hurt everybody,ï¿½?? Jeff Scruggs, director of the Barren-Edmonson County DTF said. Scruggs said smaller agencies like his will struggle to stay in business.
The Byrne JAG grant covers around 75 percent of operational costs for the Barren-Edmonson DTF, while local participating municipalities make up the remaining 25 percent through a match grant. Currently, Glasgow, Cave City, and Barren and Edmonson counties pay roughly $9,500 into the task force, in addition to providing for and paying the salary and benefits of an officer assigned to the agency.
If the local municipalities are left to make up the difference in the wake of massive federal cuts, that number could balloon to as much as an estimated $40,000 each, Scruggs said.
Now in its fifth year of operation, the drug task force opens between 200 and 300 felony drug cases annually. Without adequate funding and resources, many of the task forces will be made to rely on money obtained through seizures and property forfeitures to remain operational.
Scruggs said forfeitures provide an unreliable means of revenue since the money it generates fluctuates year-to-year, depending on the number of cases worked and property awarded. He says he is frustrated by the shortfall and the unenviable task law enforcement agencies face in order to continue serving the public while in the midst of a financial crisis.
ï¿½??Weï¿½??re going to have to look to our Congressmen for help,ï¿½?? he said.
A spokesperson for Republican Senator Senator Mitch McConnellï¿½??s office said Friday, McConnell understands the importance of the Edward Byrne Memorial JAG program and voted to ensure that the final bill more than doubled the Presidentï¿½??s original budget request.
Likewise, Congressman Ron Lewis ® said he is aware of the hardship placed on smaller agencies by recent cuts by the federal government and will seek funding to assist in continuing law enforcement efforts throughout the commonwealth.
ï¿½??The Byrne JAG Grant is an important program for Kentucky and I remain supportive of the services these grants provide. While the 2008 federal budget is particularly tight, I am disappointed that the Appropriations Committee did not make this program a higher funding priority. I will continue to fight, through this and other federal programs, to ensure that local law enforcement have the resources and support they need to keep our communities safe,ï¿½?? Lewis said.
With the state now facing a budget deficit of its own, Scruggs said he is not optimistic about the ability of state lawmakers to intervene and offer financial assistance.