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Future of JACNET is a mystery

The interagency narcotics team is losing personnel and federal funding

With local police support declining and federal funding cuts looming, the future makeup of the Jackson County Narcotics Enforcement Team is anyone's guess.

The Medford Police Department will pull its one remaining detective from JACNET at the end of the month.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department also is planning to recall its two investigators and redistribute them to other agencies.

JACNET commander Lt. Dewey Patten retires April 15 and federal grants used to fund the agency are under fire from the Bush administration's budget plan.

There won't be any more investigators or sworn police officers working out of JACNET, Medford police Lt. Tim George said.

— Medford police plan to send one detective to work with the local office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on larger and more regional narcotics investigations, George said.

We frequently work with DEA when cases meet that level in which they get involved, George said.

Medford's Gang and Street Drug Unit (GSD) will continue handling day-to-day local drug investigations.

Medford is the latest Jackson County police department to leave JACNET. At one time the agency was staffed by officers and investigators from the Oregon State Police, Central Point and Ashland police. All of those agencies withdrew their officers because of budget problems and increasing caseloads in their own cities.

George said Medford police officials met with the sheriff's department Tuesday for a brainstorming session to decide how to restructure the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area grant that Jackson County uses to help fund JACNET.

Jackson County received HIDTA funding in 1999, when the office of National Drug Control Policy acknowledged the area as a key point for drug distribution up and down Interstate 5. The county collected about &

36;318,000 in HIDTA funds each of the past two years.

Sheriff Mike Winters said he too will send a detective to work with the DEA. He also hopes to create a criminal patrol position that will help OSP track the movement of drugs on Interstate 5.

It never hurts to look for new ways to be more efficient, Winters said. I'm not abandoning JACNET. I'm just trying to find new methonds to try and take large amounts of drugs and drug money off the streets.

According to Winters, JACNET may soon serve as an information hub for drugs across the county. Support staff will remain in place to collect and distribute tips and intelligence to the respective jurisdicitons.

However, these changes depend on whether the county receives enough grant money to continue supporting JACNET, Winters added.

JACNET, the DEA and Medford's GSD make up the county's HIDTA task force. GSD works short-term, street-level cases while DEA concentrates on long-term cases that can be prosecuted in federal court. With its focus on mid-level trafficking, JACNET often channels information gleaned from drug users to arrest the high-level dealers.

The HIDTA initiative for Jackson County is going to look different than it looks now, George said. What it will look like, I don't know.

Patten said his replacement hasn't been named. He said the sheriff's department may decide to do away with the position altogether and send the manpower dollars elsewhere.

The sheriff's department has been toting the large majority of JACNET's bill for a long time, Patten said. It hasn't happened yet, but there's going to be some changes.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail Future of JACNET is a mystery"cconrad@mailtribune.com.