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Case of the disappearing drug money

Now you see it, now you don’t.

That’s the kind of disappearing act federal and state funding is about to do for the area’s drug task force.

Sheriff Dan Bullock says he has been informed that the funding for the task force is ending as of June 2006. According to what he has been told in meetings with other officials, steps have already been taken to eliminate the funding, which is shifting to Homeland Security and federal drug enforcement efforts.

Bullock said that is going to dramatically reduce the manpower available to the task force for its work.

There are two types of funding that will be drying up. Bullock said one type of funding, which he called MoSMART, pays for an officer who handles only methamphetamine cases. The task force has a MoSMART officer and the county has one. Funding for the task force officer will remain, but the county’s funding will end in 2006.

“We’re already paying a portion of our MoSMART officer’s salary and benefits,” Bullock said. “We’re going to try and pick up the remainder.”

While the grant is in effect, the MoSMART officer is restricted to only meth cases. Bullock said the officer will likely continue to handle meth cases when the county picks up the funding, but may also handle some other things for the law enforcement agency.

The other funding, which helps support the task force, amounted to about $154,000 from what is called a Byrne grant. That grant paid the salaries of four task force officers.

In addition to those officers, the task force also includes six Highway Patrol officers from Troop C and the MoSMART officer. Area cities each paid a sum of money to support the task force in addition to the federal funding.

The patrol officers will still be available, as will the MoSMART officer, Bullock explained, but the four Byrne officers won’t be funded in 2006. It was not known at press time what obligation cities would continue to have for the task force, if any. Some options about the situation are still being considered.

The cuts are already starting to affect the task force, according to its coordinator, Sgt. Stuart Wade, a highway patrol officer.

Wade says they have let their officers know the funding is likely to disappear in 2006 and three of the four that will be unfunded have already found jobs elsewhere.

“We will try to replace the officers,” he said, “but that’s going to be difficult. We’ll have to tell them it may be temporary.”

Wade said they have been explaining to legislators what the task force means to the area, and he encouraged citizens interested in the issue to communicate with legislators also.

“The task force allows us to be proactive rather than just reactive,” he said. “Without it, we will definitely become mostly reactive.”

According to him, the task force did 313 consensual searches and busted 121 labs in 2004. They conducted more than 1,500 investigations which netted 628 arrests. He says they are on track to do just as many arrests as that in 2005. In May alone they busted 14 labs.

“Last week we had two separate incidents in the same night involving meth,” Stuart said. One individual was arrested in Farmington from a vehicle, and three others in a truck were arrested in Farmington with meth precursors, including 330 ephedrine pills. The same week, there was also a lab in a vehicle in Park Hills.

Their latest bust started in the local area and ended up taking them to St. Louis where two more arrests were made.

“This is going to hurt,” Bullock acknowledged, “The task force is working on something every day.” But he believes the entities will continue to work together, and he is hopeful funding might yet be restored to some degree to the task force.

One of the primary targets of task force efforts has been methamphetamine.

Bullock mentioned a bill that goes into effect this summer that may diminish the need for the task force to target the methamphetamine problem on the local level.

Missouri’s bill will restrict sales of the key ingredient, psuedoephedrine, requiring an individual to sign for the purchases. The law is modeled after one in Oklahoma that has been credited with a 65 percent drop in the number of labs seized in the first year.

“Missouri has been No. 1 in the U.S. this year for seized labs,” Bullock said, acknowledging that the drug is a significant problem for the state and for St. Francois County. “California was No. 1 last year, but we’ve taken down more labs this year.”

Bullock cautioned that this does not mean the labs are more prevalent in Missouri. He believes enforcement here is more zealous.

The word on the street has gotten out about the new rules for cold medicine purchases, Bullock added. “People are stocking up on psuedoephedrine. People are really stockpiling because they know they’ll have to start signing for it. They’re not going to be able to go in and pick it up like they have been.”

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