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Police fear federal drug grant cuts

They worry funding to fight meth use here could be eliminated from the Bush budget

Federal grants used to fight methamphetamine are poised beneath the Bush administration's budget ax, causing concern among local law enforcement officials.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, in a March 2 letter to the Office of National Drug Control Policy in Washington, D.C., expressed his concern about the possible elimination in funding for the rne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, and reduction in funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program.

The letter came a day before a study released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found Oregon leading the nation in people seeking meth treatment.

We declare a war on drugs, but when they want to cut Oregon State Police and HIDTA funds, those things don't make any sense to me, Medford police Lt. Tim George said.

The HIDTA fund is crucial to the whole meth initiative, George added. You have to fight it on the regional, local and national level.

— Jackson County received HIDTA funding in 1999, when the office of National Drug Control Policy acknowledged its position as a key point for drug distribution up and down Interstate 5.

The grant helps fund the Jackson County Narcotics Enforcement Team, a multi-agency program created in 1989 to combat high-level drug dealers.

Jackson County received about &

36;318,000 in HIDTA funds the last two years, according to JACNET Lt. Dewey Patten.

A portion of the money pays for the services of Deputy District Attorney Judi Harper, a state and federal narcotics prosecutor. Having a cross-designated attorney in Jackson County saves time and money because JACNET officers don't have to make routine trips to the U.S. District Court in Eugene to meet with prosecutors on federal cases, Patten said.

If something drastic happens to the HIDTA grant we could lose this cross-designated position, Patten said.

A reduction in the grant also would make it tougher to conduct large-scale drug investigations. It pays for overtime expenses, cellular phone usage and buy money needed for undercover operations.

If you want to catch big drug dealers, you have to spend big money, Patten said.

JACNET's personnel is half of what it once was. At one time it consisted of six detectives from various agencies throughout the county, two supervisors and one commander from the sheriff's department.

Now we've got two detectives, one supervisor and a commander, Patten said.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters said he is trying to retool JACNET so that it will continue making large-scale drug busts with limited personnel and budget. He wants to reorganize the agency so that whatever federal money is made available will be a bonus.

Winters said he has no specific plans ready to implement concerning JACNET.

It's tough to plan around the unknown, Winters said. But we're going to find a way to make big busts one way or another.

In addition to the possible loss of HIDTA funds, the rne Justice Assistance Grant could be axed completely, Walden said.

Patten said the JAG grant ' which was about &

36;100,000 for the 2005-06 fiscal year ' pays for a sheriff's detective position within JACNET.

For some, though, the past serves as a source of hope.

Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith said prior budgets have spelled doom for police programs only to have Congress rally around them.

I don't expect those rne or HIDTA grants to go anywhere, Smith said. I believe Congress will fund them.

JACNET's financial woes affect police agencies throughout Jackson County, George said. Medford police's Gang and Street Drug Unit shares information and intelligence with JACNET on the local drug scene.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail Police fear federal drug grant cuts"cconrad@mailtribune.com.

Sheriff sees big effects if any federal drug and timber money is cut

With cuts in federal aid for drug programs looming, loss of timber money allotted to Jackson County law enforcement would be devastating, said Sheriff Mike Winters.

This is where you're going to see a problem in this county, he said.

Oregon counties now receive about &

36;280 million annually in payments that were intended to offset revenue losses resulting from timer-harvest declines in federal forests.

Jackson County receives about &

36;24 million annually in timber revenues, which help fund libraries, the sheriff's office and other services.

In the timber money is not renewed in 2007, sheriff's patrols would be scaled back and part of the jail might have to be closed off to curtail expenses, Winters said.

Commissioners Jack Walker and C.W. Smith are in Washington, D.C., this week lobbying for the continuation of timber revenue payments.

Smith said he spent most of Saturday meeting with as many people as he could and is cautiously optimistic about keeping the timber money flowing.

Though he is concerned about the possible loss of federal grants for drug programs, Smith said he fears the loss of timber revenue would change life in this county as we know it.

Winters agrees.

We stand a better chance of working through (the loss of federal drug grants) than we do timber revenue cuts, he said.