Drug dealers and manufacturers across the nation may be celebrating federal cuts that will significantly reduce or eliminate special drug task force units.
District Attorney Gene Haynes said the reduction of funding will impact the 12th District’s Drug Task Force that serves Rogers, Mayes and Craig counties.
Agents Denver Davenport and Roy Dowden serve the district by coordinating with local law enforcement to set up drug stings that have shut down local methamphetamine labs and drug distributors throughout the three-county area.
“Everybody helps each other,” said Haynes of the Task Force. “It’s not a definite set of guys. What we provide is that central thing they’re working through with Roy and Denver.”
Haynes said one of the advantages of the Task Force is that it can follow cases anywhere due to statewide jurisdiction. Other advantages include expertise, manpower, “buy money” and equipment.
“The 12th District Drug Task Force has been involved in approximately 38 possession of marijuana cases, 22 possessions of controlled dangerous substance (CDS) cases, 12 deliveries of CDS and four manufacturing of methamphetamine cases during 2007,” said Davenport. “These cases were filed in District Court. There are also other cases involving guns which were filed in Federal Court.”
According to information from the Oklahoma District Attorney’s Council Web site, 63 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties are covered by a drug task force. In 2008 Drug Task Forces received $1.2 million in funds from the Justice Assistance Grant. In 2007 DTFs and cooperating agencies were responsible for making 2,589 drug related arrests, seizing “35 pounds of cocaine, 1,869 pounds of marijuana, 4,961 marijuana plants, 69 pounds of methamphetamine, and 361 fire arms while executing arrests and search warrants.”
The DTFs are funded through federal Justice Assistance Grants (JAG), said Haynes. Though some were in existence around the state when he came into office, Rogers County did not have one at that time.
Haynes said he campaigned on the issue and applied for the grant.
“We got our first federal grant in 1991,” said Haynes. “Ever since then we have had a Drug Task Force.”
Dowden, a former police officer and agent from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics was the first investigator Haynes’ office hired.
“Roy would offer his assistance to the various law enforcement agencies in the district,” said Haynes.
An important aspect in addition to the multi-jurisdictional authorization of the DTF is the ability to supply “confidential buy money,” said Haynes.
Though the Rogers County Sheriff’s Department and Claremore are large enough to work cases on their own, most departments “really don’t have enough officers to specialize in drug cases,” said Haynes. “A lot of departments didn’t have any money to make drug buys.”
“A number of agencies do not have the funding available for the special equipment or extra manpower needed to work drug cases in their communities,” said Davenport. “The Drug Task Force is able to supply this equipment, money for drug purchases and experienced drug enforcement agents to assist these departments.”
The DTF provides specialized equipment for surveillance and recording.
Jurisdictional limitations are lifted when working with the DTF. Many departments cannot pursue cases outside of city limits on their own.
“Rarely does everything happen in the same jurisdiction,” said Haynes. “I don’t like being in the police business, but there’s so many advantages because of jurisdictional issues. We’re normally prosecutors.”
Davenport is currently the full-time investigator with Dowden working three-quarter time. The Task Force coordinates with local police and sheriff’s departments when working cases.
“The federal budget for this program was cut by two-thirds,” said Haynes. “Oklahoma’s share will most likely be cut by two-thirds.”
Though not sure how the district’s task force will be affected yet, Haynes speculates that instead of two investigators, his office may be reduced to a single investigator at three-quarter time.
“I would say it’s fair to say that throughout the state of Oklahoma the majority of drug busts and seizures have been done by the Drug Task Forces,” said Haynes. He said outlying areas in particular depend on them. “We were involved in drug lab seizures several times a week.”
Methamphetamine labs have been aggressively attacked in Oklahoma. Sen. Dan Boren, who pushed for lab cleanup legislation last year reported that a total of 894 meth lab seizures were made in Oklahoma in 2003 and 217 made in 2005. According to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, methamphetamine remains "the primary drug of choice in Oklahoma."
Though the funding cuts will not directly impact the Rogers County Sheriff’s office, Undersheriff Barry Lamb said smaller agencies across the state will feel the sting. Money left over from the grant after funding the DTFs helped buy equipment such as radios.
“Our agency has gotten car radios and hand-held radios off that grant,” said Lamb. “Now the money will go to the Drug Task Forces.”
Lamb said that according to numbers tracked by the National Sheriff’s Association, funding has decreased over the years from $900 million nationally available to $64 million. By 2009 it is expected to be “zeroed out.”
“Without the grants, agencies will be forced to divert some of their resources to continue this work,” said Davenport. “Enforcement would drop drastically in these areas.”
Money will be rolled into “a more comprehensive package,” said Lamb, and may be “harder to get on the local level.”
The Undersheriff said every jurisdiction served by a DTF is different with unique needs.
“It’s not one-size-fits-all,” said Lamb. “Some rural counties are very dependent on it (Task Force assistance).”
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