Members of regional drug interdiction teams said they fear their task forces could disband if funding isn’t restored to a federal grant program.
President Bush hasn’t requested any funding this year for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which is the financial backbone for many area drug interdiction teams, officials said.
Instead, the president is proposing consolidating more than 70 grant programs in a move that will drastically cut funding and, in some cases, may drive drug teams to extinction.
“Small task forces won’t be around anymore,” said Roy Sain, director of Tennessee’s 12th Judicial District Drug Task Force based in Jasper. The team serves Bledsoe, Franklin, Grundy, Marion, Rhea and Sequatchie counties.
The president’s budget plan calls for $200 million to create the new Byrne Public Safety and Protection program, according to the Department of Justice spokesman Erik Ablin.
The Byrne grant was funded at $450 million last year, records show.
U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said the program was funded at about $2 billion in the 1990s. He wrote a letter to President Bush asking for the funds to be restored.
Local drug teams are unsure what the change will mean for them, but those units that aren’t completely reliant on proceeds from property and cash seizures are bracing for a doomsday scenario.
Larry Black, commander of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force in Northwest Georgia, said the federal grant is critical in funding manpower, office rent and utilities. And he said cuts could impact more than drug investigations.
“There are so many other major crimes and case investigations that are spin-off type investigations from our drug arrests,” Mr. Black said. “In the years since we’ve had our task force we’ve solved homicides, armed robberies, residential burglaries.”
The task force serves Walker, Chattooga, Catoosa and Dade counties
Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers said the grant reimburses his office about $100,000 annually to provide two officers for the task force. He said the county may not be able to pick up that bill if the grant ends.
“For the money to be totally cut, it creates the very real possibility that (the task force) would cease altogether,” he said.
Drug officers are lobbying lawmakers to restore the grant.
Mike Hall, director of the 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force based in Charleston, Tenn., is visiting lawmakers in Washington this weekend.
He said his task force is fully funded through seizures, mainly from drug busts on Interstate 75. But he said his office also relies on partnerships with neighboring drug interdiction teams that might disband without the grant.
“We’re in the fight of our lives right now. There are more drugs out there now than 10 years ago,” Mr. Hall said.
There is bipartisan congressional support for restoration of the grant.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said in a statement: “We have to give our local law enforcement personnel the resources they need to carry out their duties.”