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Police should address local drug problems but not ignore big dealers

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters says area drug officers need to focus more attention on neighborhood drug problems and less on major dealers. Medford police say that's a problem if it leads to the loss of federal funding for anti-drug efforts.

So, who's right? They both are. And they both should sit down and find a way to walk the middle ground in fighting illegal drugs.

As sheriff, Winters is the titular head of the Jackson County Narcotics Enforcement Team (JACNET), appointing its commander and setting policy. He has stirred the waters in drug enforcement circles by suggesting that JACNET is spending too much time pursuing the big drug dealers at the cost of responding to citizen complaints about neighborhood drug problems.

It's hard to disagree with Winters when he says, If you live in a neighborhood and a drug house moves in next door, you want it worked.

But in the real world of scarce funding, too much emphasis on working neighborhood problems could end up costing JACNET hundreds of thousands of dollars it receives from the federal government. That money is available because of the county's dubious distinction of being identified as a high-intensity drug trafficking area (HIDTA).

The HIDTA money, currently &

36;346,000 annually, is used to pay for investigations and prosecutions, primarily on cases involving larger amounts of drugs.

The difference in the small-versus-big approaches is evident in statistics involving Medford and JACNET drug arrests. In 1992, Medford's Gang and Street Drug Unit made 123 arrests and seized about 1,900 grams of narcotics. JACNET, which includes Medford officers, made 110 arrests, but seized more than 31,000 grams.

We do not see how police officers in a specific jurisdiction, whether it's the county or the city, can ignore calls from citizens about neighborhood drug problems. But taking resources away from the bigger cases to deal with the smaller ones would be self-defeating, because the number of small cases would explode if the major suppliers were not kept in check.

Medford police say they might pull out of JACNET if the emphasis is shifted to the smaller cases, because they already have officers tackling those problems in the city. If the federal money is lost, the agencies involved in JACNET would be faced with doing less or picking up the tab. In this day of tight budgets and tight-fisted voters, picking up the tab is probably not possible.

Both arguments ' better neighborhood policing and controlling the bigger dealers ' are right. That means both sides need to sit down and find a workable middle ground.

Neither local drug enforcement agencies nor the public can afford to lose the federal funding. The smaller cities that Winters hopes to attract to JACNET with his local emphasis certainly won't cover those costs. But those smaller cities and rural residents deserve to have their concerns addressed as well.

There's no easy solution here, but it's apparent to us that if either argument wins out entirely, the community will lose. The police agencies should do whatever they can to avoid that.

Top-notch schools

If you're into patting high achievers on the back, we suggest you concentrate on teachers, administrators, parent volunteers, and of course the kids at Hoover and Washington elementary schools.

Despite a vast difference in the socioeconomic levels at the two Medford schools, both collected the Pacific Northwest's highest school accreditation ranking last week.

The Northwest Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (NASCU) announced that 360 public and private schools throughout the Pacific Northwest had achieved voluntary accreditation. Of those, only Hoover and Washington went through the much more complicated process of applying for and earning accreditation with merit ' a much higher honor.

Both schools received plaques and will be sent checks for &


Medford curriculum director Phil Long credits the success in part to Washington's tight-knit teaching staff and Hoover's strong parent volunteerism.

Other school administrators say the top honor is the direct result of teamwork, including dedicated volunteers and talented, hard-working staffs. NASCU officials credited the honor to excelling in specific programs and demonstrating continuing improvement.

Whatever the reasons, there is no doubt that both schools ' and other Medford schools as well ' are meeting their goals of educating students. Both Washington Principal Stephanie Johnson and Hoover principal Phil Meager, and their staffs, deserve praise for this fine effort.