Pubdate: Thu, 29 Aug 2002
Source: Norfolk Daily News (NE)
Copyright: 2002 Norfolk Daily News
Author: Lori Pilger


Things didn't go quite as Steve Hecker thought they would.

Sitting in his second-floor office, the Norfolk police captain said he was 
sure the money would start flowing in when Madison County was designated as 
a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) back in 1999.

"I thought once we got that designation, 'This is going to be good for us,' 
" Hecker said.

Three years later, Madison County has not received a cent.

"We thought we'd be able to fund what we needed to do, and to the contrary, 
it's been very disappointing," he said.

Hecker said law enforcement officials had made a number of attempts to get 
HIDTA funds and once even were told they were getting $20,000, only to 
later be told the funds had fallen through.

"That's a source of a problem for us," he said.

So, why isn't Madison County gaining anything from the HIDTA designation 
other than the notoriety of being a problem area for drugs?

It isn't a lack of need. In fact, just to get the designation, police 
numbers have to indicate a critical drug problem. The federal drug czar and 
U.S. attorney general both have to approve it, as does Congress.

"You have to have certain levels of drug statistics that are coming in to 
the federal government indicating indeed that you have 'X' number of drugs 
in the communities -- and that the flow is significant and that you're 
working those and it's a problem for you," Hecker said.

In Nebraska, only 11 other counties -- Dakota, Dawson, Dodge, Douglas, 
Gage, Jefferson, Hall, Lancaster, Sarpy, Scotts Bluff and Platte -- are 
part of what's called the Midwest HIDTA, based in Kansas City, Mo.

Hecker said the lack of funding also isn't from lack of effort on the 
Norfolk Police Division's part.

He's met a number of times with aides to Nebraska Sens. Chuck Hagel and Ben 
Nelson, and he even talked about it over a meal with former Sen. Bob 
Kerrey. And he's talked to the HIDTA state coordinator for Nebraska more 
than a few times.

But, at this point, he doesn't think that effort likely will make a difference.

"It's our understanding that there won't be any funds forthcoming for us 
out of that designation, even though they say you really have bad drugs 
here and you have lots of drugs here -- but we're not going to fund you," 
Hecker said.

He said part of it may be that President Bush's initiative in regard to 
HIDTA has been primarily oriented to urban areas, leaving little for rural 
counties like Madison County.

He said even without a HIDTA designation, the same drug problems occur in 
other rural counties in the area, and they all share the view that drugs 
are fueling increased crime.

"To think that we can only address drugs in our larger communities -- Des 
Moines, Kansas City or Omaha -- doesn't fly," Hecker said. "That doesn't 
mean we don't have a drug problem we've got to figure out how to handle. It 
just makes it difficult to sit here and know we've got a drug problem and 
everybody knows it, how do we fund it and how do we most efficiently work 
drugs in our communities."

He said another reason Madison County hasn't gotten any benefit from the 
designation may be that the HIDTA board consists of members of counties 
originally designated in 1996, who now are protecting their own initiatives.

"For us to get money, they would have to give up some of their money. In 
all likelihood, it's not going to happen," Hecker said. "But we continue to 
push on."

Hecker said he'd like to see the funds evenly divided between the 
designated counties. "Otherwise, why bother making the federal 
designation?" he added.

For the time being, Hecker said the Norfolk Police Division operates on a 
shoestring budget and still tries to secure HIDTA money, he said.

"Any effort that we've made to find funds to fight drugs is not a wasted 
effort. Anybody who has kids, anybody who has a spouse who has been 
involved in drugs knows that effort is not a wasted effort," he said.

Everyone Can't Have Piece Of Pie

Nancy Martinez of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Omaha -- who serves as the 
state coordinator for HIDTA in Nebraska -- said the problem essentially 
comes down to the pie being too small for everyone to get a piece.

"We have to compete with six states. That's where the problem lies," 
Martinez said. "Our money remains the same. The only way to get more 
approved out of the Nebraska funding is if we stopped funding one of our 
other initiatives."

Martinez said she knows it's frustrating for counties to be told they've 
got a drug problem, but not given any money to do anything about it. 
Martinez fields the calls from Madison County and the four other counties 
in Nebraska that haven't seen any money come from the HIDTA designation.

Martinez said it would be hard to tell drug task forces in Omaha, Lancaster 
County and the Grand Island area that are viable, hard-working and 
successful that they have to give up some of their money.

"Is it fair to say you need to give up your funds because you're doing the 
right thing, but these other guys need it, too?" she asked.

Martinez said she believes those in Nebraska getting funding want to help 
those that aren't and would do so if they had the money to do it.

"Everybody realizes we're all in it together," she said.

Altogether, Nebraska gets $1,061,022 from the Midwest HIDTA, to pay for 
things like overtime, investigative travel, car leases, cellular phones, 
Internet connections and drug buy money, she said.

"We are in fourth place, I guess, if you had to rank us," Martinez said of 
how Nebraska stacks up to the six states in the Midwest HIDTA.

She said Missouri, then Iowa and Kansas get more funding. North and South 
Dakota get less.

"Absolutely without question Norfolk and Columbus and the entire SNARE Task 
Force have a significant drug problem and they have all the statistics to 
back them up," Martinez said.

That's why they received the designation in the first place, she said. But, 
Martinez said, they need to know that didn't mean instant money.

"They're a blip on the screen and when the money does become available 
we'll be able to say this is their drug problem, these are their 
statistics, they need resources. It was really the first step to make sure 
they were recognized so that everything was in order," she said.

Martinez said with funding pushed toward tighter border control and 
homeland security after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, the Office of 
National Drug Control Policy has been looking more closely at what is being 
spent and where.

"This is a real tough time for the HIDTA program," she said.

Martinez said program officials had been working with local senators and 
members of Congress just to help protect the funding they've got for 

"We try to help them understand just because we're not Washington or 
Chicago doesn't mean that our communities aren't dealing with the exact 
same problem. It's very hard to make people see that our problems are just 
as significant," Martinez said.

County Has One Strike Against It

She said then when officials started looking at counties in Nebraska for 
the designation, Madison County was one they chose because of the 
drug-related statistics and because another source of funding they were 
making use of is no longer available.

"We were aware that they had the problem and that the numbers did in fact 
support the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area designation," Martinez said.

But, she said, Madison County has at least one aspect working against it. 
Martinez said the goal is for HIDTA funding to go toward what's called 
"co-located" task forces.

That means local HIDTA task forces should have full-time federal, state and 
local representatives at meetings.

The Norfolk area doesn't have any federal drug agents, such as Drug 
Enforcement Agency officials or Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, 
working with them. But they are a part of the SNARE Task Force, which gives 
them a more regional approach, and cooperate with the Nebraska State Patrol.

"I know the captain is sometimes frustrated," Martinez said of Norfolk 
Police Capt. Hecker. "But our main goal is to take existing resources and 
making them work better and working closer with state and local agencies."
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