Area law enforcement officials push for drug task force fundingWORTHINGTON — When Congress unveiled the proposed omnibus appropriations bill for the fiscal year of 2008, law enforcement officials looked on in dismay.
By: Justine Wettschreck, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — When Congress unveiled the proposed omnibus appropriations bill for the fiscal year of 2008, law enforcement officials looked on in dismay. The bill cut the Byrne/Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) program from $520 million in 2007 to $170.4 million in 2008 — a 67 percent cut from a program crucial to state and local jurisdictions that depend on the funds to fight crime.
Just two years ago, it was a Byrne/JAG grant that helped give the Buffalo Ridge Drug Task Force (BRDTF) its start. A total of $150,000 in funding was approved by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, with $100,000 of that funding coming from Byrne/JAG.
With funding for 2008 already in place, the task force board is thinking ahead to 2009, when funding may change. BRDTF has received $399,525 in both federal and state grant awards since its inception, but keeping an eye on the future, the board looks for alternative funding methods. Board members arranged a meeting in January with city and county officials to update them on task force activity and talk about where the funding comes from.
“We told them we have to start thinking about the future and what could happen to the funding,” said Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening. “We can’t afford to lose this task force.”
Two years into its existence, BRDTF has made more than 120 drug arrests, taken more than 420 pounds of marijuana and 1,300 grams of methamphetamine off the streets, made 31 gang arrests and removed more than 60 guns from the hands of criminals.
Covering Nobles, Rock, Pipestone and Murray counties, as well as the cities of Worthington, Adrian, Fulda and Slayton, the task force has seized $928,500 in drugs, entered more than 100 gang members into the gang network and given presentations about the dangers of gangs and drugs to almost 1,500 people. They have utilized confidential informants to solve cases involving not only drugs, but also burglary, theft, assault and vandalism.
BRDTF Commander Troy Appel is enthusiastic when asked about the changes in crime since the task force began.
“We’re much more efficient in putting together drug cases than in the past,” Appel said. “In our area, the price of drugs has gone way up. We have made a huge impact on supply and demand.”
Some areas of success are hard to measure, but Appel knows there are people who have not had the opportunity to try a controlled substance for the first time because the drugs are more difficult to obtain.
“The task force recognizes that illegal drug activity is not a victimless crime,” the BRDTF mission statement reads. “The goal, as individual departments and collectively as the task force, is to effectively investigate and prosecute all those who are involved in illegal drug activity.”
But that goal cannot be met without funding. With six full-time agents to fund, as well as equipment, buy money, vehicles and more, Appel and others, concerned about the future of the task force, talked to other task forces.
One funding idea that seemed feasible is per capita funding, used by the CEE VI Drug Task Force, which covers seven counties such as Lac Qui Parle, Chippewa and Kandiyohi.
In 2000, CEE VI initiated $1.50 per capita funding in place of a set buy-in amount for the task force. Currently, the funding is $3.50 per capita. All seven counties within the task force jurisdiction participate with refigured populations each year.
“I like CEE VI’s funding,” Wilkening said. “I think it’s innovative, and it shows they are planning ahead. If we aren’t thinking ahead … well, we can’t let the task force go away.”
Wilkening and others are still looking into how the funds are collected for CEE VI, and then they need to get the participating counties and cities to agree to a plan.
“Everybody does it, or we don’t do it at all. We want to go ahead with it even if the federal funding doesn’t leave,” Wilkening said. “It could be supplemental to enhance what the task force is already doing.”
“The more funds we have, the more we can accomplish,” Appel explained. “Anything we get will enhance our program.”
Worthington Public Safety Director Mike Cumiskey said the state has been funding at the same level since 1989.
“We need to try to look forward,” he stated. “We need to take ownership of this.”
With approximately 50,000 people in the four-county area, the task force board is looking at an amount of $2 to $4 per capita.
“For a family of four, you’re looking at the cost of a few bottles of pop,” Wilkening said.
According to the sheriff, presentations will be made at several county commissioner boards regarding per capita funding before budget preparation starts in July.