Sunday, June 29, 2008

Drastic Cuts Await Northern New Mexico Drug Task Force

New Mexico is about to swallow 67% cuts in one of the primary funding sources in the war on drugs. The Byrne JAG grant which in past has provided 2.9 million in funding for combating drug dealing in New Mexico has been reduced to 900,000 by the Bush Administration in the 2009 federal budget. Across the nation the grants have been reduced from 520 million to a mere 170 million to be divided up among all 50 states. Since the Clinton administration law enforcement has faced year after year of cuts in every funding source once provided by the federal government.Northern New Mexico which includes Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, Los Alamos and Taos Counties usually combat drug dealers using the Region III drug task force. The Task force is made up of officers from cities and counties in the area and the New Mexico State Police. Each City and County who sends officers to the task force pays the base salaries of their officers. The task force and its federal funding provide equipment, office and civilian support and overtime funding as well as monies to purchase drugs and pay informants. The 67% cuts in funding will create big changes in the way things are done. After a big sigh and a few moments in mourning we will now have to sit down and cope.

Byrne-JAG grants began on February 26, 1988.On that day New York City Police Officer Edward R. Byrne was working witness protection on a witness in a large drug case. While sitting in his patrol car outside the witnesses' home he was ambushed and killed by two gunmen. Police later captured four suspects, the two who ambushed him and two lookouts. The hit was ordered by a gang related drug kingpin from his jail cell.

Later that year the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 was passed. As part of the act the U.S. Government launched a Department of Justice initiative titled the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. Over the years it provided local law enforcement agencies with the tools, money and officers it needed to combat high level drug dealers, gangs and murders.

The region III task force is the best way to combine our forces and deal with the big picture and target the big fish who deal drugs in Northern New Mexico. I believe several of the city and county chiefs and sheriff's along with State Police, will commit to whatever resources are needed to continue the task force but it will not be easy. With costs for officers on the rise, gas prices on the rise, ammunition expensive and hard to get due to the war, law enforcement is really feeling the crunch. It is only a matter of time before the effects are felt both within the ranks and in the public.

Across the nation U.S. Attorneys General, National Sheriff's Associations, The International Chiefs of Police and others have rallied against the cuts. Usually this works in at least restoring lost funds if not getting increases. This year we have all failed Miserably. Our own Attorney General Gary King petitioned congress along with Attorney Generals from 50 states to restore the funding. I personally spoke to Congressman and Senate Candidate Tom Udall about the need to restore this funding however the cuts were recently passed and attempts by some in congress to restore the funding have failed.

(photo from Democracy for New Mexico )

Some of you, whether you believe in recreational or medical drug use or not, may think that this does not affect you. Some believe the war on drugs is a failure and should be abandoned all together anyway. I believe burglaries and other thefts could increase, homicides and gang activities could grow, and innocent people could die. Mexican cartels which already have taken over Meth, Cocaine, and Heroin supplies could grow into todays American Mafia's. The biggest problem with the Mexican cartels is they are not afraid to kill whether it is on American soil or Mexican. Already hit lists of individuals in New Mexico have been drafted by Mexican Cartels who are not afraid of U.S. Law Enforcement. Mexican criminals are gaining power and could end up making Manuel Noriega look like a Wal-Mart shoplifter compared to this new breed of heavily armed criminal.

When I think of the Bush Administrations handling of the war on drugs and law enforcement in general it reminds me of the time President George stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended. All while standing in front of a Mission Accomplished banner. This was five years ago and our troops still die in Iraq as the war rages on. Has President Bush declared victory in the War on Drugs? Maybe the Federal Government has waived the white flag and surrendered? Either way the Federal Government is wrong. We must continue to attack the problems created by drug addiction, not only with law enforcement but with additional treatment and prevention programs. Funding for treatment and prevention is also declining rapidly and is unavailable to many who need and want it.

Many times the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other and I am hoping it begins swinging back to a place where law enforcement is adequately funded. Until then we will hunker down in our fox holes and hold the enemy at bay until reinforcements arrive.

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