As that occurs, he says those calling the money shots deem the program a success and reallocate funding to other issues viewed as more pressing. But behind the scenes, those in the trenches see a rise in the use and sale of other narcotics. For instance, Groves says as drug enforcement assaulted Missouri meth trafficking, black tar heroin and LSD rose in popularity. Law enforcement has nearly purged this state of local mom-and-pop meth cooks, he says, but larger, more organized groups, such as Mexican drug cartels, have moved in with super labs and new narcotic offerings.
"Like every good business person, drug traffickers continually find new ways to make money," Groves explains. "That's the way of the drug world. If one drug starts to falter, they bring back an old standby or a new type of drug."
Logue also admits to a decline in Missouri meth production since 2002, but quickly emphasizes that "it's not that folks aren't out there doing drugs and committing crimes." Rather, he says, addicts have switched to more readily available, and less costly, substances, and traffickers are employing new means of avoiding detection.
"It's a lot harder to get in," reports an undercover drug enforcement officer from Missouri. "I used to be able to get an 'in' with the guys who were cooking pretty easily. It's trickier to get in with today's criminals; their operations are more sophisticated, better funded and better organized than they used to be."A working approach
Proposals to cut federal task force subsidies are shortsighted, warns Kendall, who points out the stats clearly illustrate the success of this enforcement approach. In FY 2007, members of Iowa's drug enforcement teams arrested 3,095 individuals, responded to 363 meth labs and seized $3.1 million in street drugs.
The Mid-Missouri Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Force shares a similar story. This unit operates in the Lake of the Ozarks region, a popular Midwestern vacation destination that doubles its citizen population during the spring and summer months. Rural communities dominate the area and, at the time of the task force's inception in 2002, so did meth labs. The scourge of drugs across this meth-infested state — Missouri ranks No. 1 in the nation for meth production — fed into the task forces' ready hands. While Missouri leads the nation in labs, Wheatley's quick to point out these numbers reflect "seized," not operating, setups. "It shows that we're out there doing our jobs," he says. His organization, one out of six task forces in the state, takes in 90 meth labs a year, and affects more than 1,500 arrests, involving anything from narcotics distribution to weapons offenses, theft and strong arm robbery.
One reason task forces work is they focus their duties solely on drug enforcement. States send these drug enforcers to specialized training, including advanced narcotics schools and meth lab take-down courses. This concentration immerses members in the narcotics world and all of its nuances, and helps them stay abreast of emerging developments. "It's such a changing world that if there is a break in that enforcement, you could really lose sight of current trends and things like that," Logue maintains.
Terry Lemming, statewide drug enforcement coordinator for the Illinois State Police, agrees task forces cover interdiction more completely than other means of enforcement. "One of the biggest things we see is great cooperation among the law enforcement partners in our task forces," he says of Illinois' 23 drug enforcement teams, 20 of which are funded with Byrne grants.
According to Lemming, these units capitalize on a collective rather than individual approach to interdiction. A local law enforcement officer maintains jurisdiction within his community. If he investigates a dealer, who's selling drugs in other counties, his investigation must come to an end at the city limits or county line. In Illinois, drug enforcement task forces hold statewide jurisdiction because they fall under the state police umbrella. "As a result we see conspiracy cases develop; cases that wouldn't have been built if we'd been working on it individually," he says. "Cases cross boundaries because task force members can investigate in multiple counties."
The task force model definitely increases information sharing, Wheatley agrees, noting that Mid-Missouri sheriffs and task force officers convene monthly. These gatherings provide a forum to discuss types of thefts, fugitives, new drug trends, and other key issues.