The over Byrne cuts

Drug enforcers predict decreased Byrne funding will turn Operation Byrne Blitz into Operation Byrne Bust

     "Task forces are a very efficient way of doing business," adds Kendall, who notes these units foster resource sharing between departments. The state of Iowa is peppered with small towns with less than five to 10 officers on the force. According to Kendall, these cash-strapped communities cannot justify paying overtime for patrol officers to investigate drug trafficking. But because a task force's jurisdiction may span two to nine counties, the expense of this enforcement can be shared.

Disaster on the horizon

     Experts predict catastrophe if the proposed funding cut comes to fruition. They envision increased drug sales, use and abuse; a spike in violent crime; and a swell in other criminal offenses as well.

     The fact of the matter, says Logue, is that drugs go hand in hand with other types of crimes. As Wheatley points out, 75 to 80 percent of all offenses can be tied in some way to the use, sale or abuse of drugs. "Anything from homicides to assaults to domestic batteries to prostitution and theft are perpetrated by drug users who need money for dope," he explains.

     Eliminating multi-jurisdictional enforcement efforts also removes the fear of detection that prevents many individuals from using, or even trafficking, illicit substances. Lemming explains this phenomenon through the following analogy: "If you're driving down a well-enforced road, people may go over the speed limit by 5 to 10 miles an hour because they think there might be a police officer over the next hill or around the next bend. It's the same with drug enforcement. If we eliminate drug enforcement or reduce the number of officers, the fear of being caught will decrease."

     Missouri already suffers from the after-affects of enforcement cutbacks due to earlier funding deficits that forced some task forces to shut down. "We've seen lab increases off of that," Wheatley says. "If they let it go back to the way it was [in 2002], it will take several years and 10 times as much money for us to recover."

     Eighty-five percent of the cases opened by Iowa's Division of Narcotics Enforcement in 2007 originated from multi-jurisdictional task force efforts. Because the majority of these teams' investigations wind up being adopted for federal prosecution, Kendall fears there may not be anyone to cover enforcement at the grassroots level should these units disband. "The whole goal of this effort is to start at the community level and work up the distribution chain until we get to the big players," he explains, adding that just five to six Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) field agents patrol the entire state of Iowa — as is the case in most states — and patrol officers are already stretched too thin and oversaturated with other duties.

     Groves advises lawmakers not to overlook the impact the sale and abuse of illicit substances has on children raised in affected homes, which in turn burdens the school system, an already over-taxed family services network, and other organizations that must assist these kids.

     Not only that but when narcotics crime increases, the use of weapons and explosives also rises. "The situation quickly becomes an ATF issue, an IRS problem, and a postal service concern," he says. "As enforcement diminishes, you successfully curtail or eliminate many of the early warning systems, and the government's ability to collectively respond to the narcotics flow."

The big picture

     But placing too much emphasis on enforcement and funding may also be shortsighted, warns Groves, who urges examining drug use and drug crimes in a holistic way. He underscores that it's important to consider the big picture instead of simply "creating pods of enforcement."

     The nation's drug problem has existed for many years — and as Groves says, it's unlikely to ever cease. The entire nation, he stresses, must closely scrutinize the nature of the problem then develop a means of addressing it and an appropriate measure of success. "You have to work toward an end state first then back plan from that," he says. "And, we have to be realistic and ask ourselves if we 'can' get to where we want to be. If we can't, then we need to ask ourselves what we are willing to settle for and what will give us the most impact against this blight on our society."

     Attending to the country's drug problem cannot be a "fixed in concrete" policy either, he states. Strategies must be as flexible and fluid as the perpetrators of drug-related crimes, and as varied as the substances they sell.

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