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Sheriff is cautiously optimistic funding will be restored

It’s back.

Maybe.

An amendment restoring an additional $275 million to the funding source essential to the Mineral Area Drug Task Force is on the table at the United States Congress, but with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita gobbling up billions for relief efforts, the outcome of the discussion is anyone’s guess.

The Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Bill in the Senate has restored the funding for the Byrne program, but the House bill does not mention this funding. The bill has thus been sent to a committee composed of House and Senate leaders to iron out the differences.

An amendment restoring an additional $275 million was co-sponsored by Senator Jim Talent along with Senators Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). If approved, it will bring the total funding to $900 million for the program, which was initially zeroed out by the administration. The Senate Appropriations Committee restored $625 million in funding and then the Talent-Chambliss-Dayton amendment restored an additional $275 million.

A spokesman for Talent’s office said the Senator believes the government should be able to fund both hurricane relief and the Byrne grants. &#8221Hopefully the conference will do the right thing and retain this funding,“ Rich Chrismer said.

St. Francois County Sheriff Dan Bullock says he is cautiously optimistic the funding will be restored, but added it is hard to know exactly how much of that funding will &#8221trickle down“ to the Mineral Area’s drug task force.

&#8221At this time, I know there’s been a lot of pressure put on our politicians,“ Bullock said. &#8221Hopefully Sen. Talent has restored some of that drug money so our Mineral Area Drug Task Force will survive another year. And hopefully some of this money will trickle down to our task force.“

The Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Program provided a large portion of the funding for the Mineral Area Drug Task Force. This year’s grant was $154,000 and paid the salaries of four task force officers.

Each city, in addition, pays a sum of money to support the task force and the Highway Patrol provides an additional six officers from Troop C. One officer is funded by a grant program called MoSMART which was curtailed, but not completely cut.

While the county has lost its MoSMART funding, the task force is retaining its grant for at least the next year. If the Byrne funding is restored, that would leave the task force largely intact for another year.

However, the impending cuts have already negatively affected the task force, officials say. Some of the officers facing the seeming likelihood that their jobs were going to disappear have already found jobs elsewhere.

Sgt. Stuart Wade, a Highway Patrol officer with the task force, says they will try to replace the officers, but it may be difficult with the uncertainty in the program’s funding.

&#8221The task force allows us to be proactive rather than just reactive,“ Wade said. &#8221Without it, we will definitely become mostly reactive.“

According to Wade, the task force did 313 consensual searches and busted 121 labs in 2004. They conducted more than 1,500 investigations netting 628 arrests. As of May, they were on track to do just as many busts in 2005.

&#8221The task force is working on something new every day,“ Bullock said.

The Sheriff has stressed that regardless of the funding outcome, his department will continue to fight drugs as best it can, even as they seek restoration of funding for their MoSMART officer. The Sheriff’s Department is now picking up the tab for that officer, but Bullock said his activities won’t necessarily be restricted to drugs now that the state funding is gone.

New legislation restricting the sale of cold medicines is already having a positive effect as far as the county’s meth problems go, Bullock said. A similar effect has been seen in other states implementing such controls.

&#8221Our labs have dropped tremendously since the new ephedrine laws came into effect,“ Bullock said.

However, they are seeing a rise in cases involving cocaine and heroine, Bullock said, as well as a slight rise in marijuana. That would tend to indicate a shift in drug use, rather than a real decrease in such activity.

&#8221Drugs are still going to be a problem in St. Francois County and we need to keep the fight up,“ Bullock said. &#8221We will continue the fight with or without MoSMART or the task force. It just may not be as big a fight.“

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