Pubdate: Wed, 07 May 2003
Source: Kentucky Post (KY)
Copyright: 2003 Kentucky Post
Author: Shelly Whitehead


Agency polishes image

Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force Director Jim Paine jokes that the words
"long troubled" so often preceded references to his agency that he wondered
if they might become part of the official name one day. But Paine hopes a
hard-won distinction the drug-fighting force recently won will elevate the
25-year-old agency's image in the eyes of local residents and law

In August, the four-county drug enforcement organization will become the
first regional drug enforcement unit in the state to receive official
accreditation from the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police.

Paine hopes the groundbreaking achievement will separate the agency from its
leadership and operational problems of the past.

"A big part of my responsibility when I got here was to re-establish those
relationships with local and federal agencies, Paine said. "I had to go out
and sell the strike force again -- that it was professionally run and
professionally staffed.

"This allowed us the opportunity to take a good look at the agency and see
what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong and to get our ducks in a
row, so to speak."

Paine said the accreditation process for the police chief's organization
took more than a year, but ultimately strengthened the strike force, which
now serves Boone, Kenton, Campbell and Grant counties.

He said to meet each of the 154 required standards, the agency was forced to
develop written policies and procedures and even hone its mission of
interrupting and curtailing the flow of illegal drug use into the region.

The process, Paine said, enhanced the image of the strike force among the 34
police departments it depends on to accomplish its mission.

The Boone County Sheriff's Department, which for several years supplied two
officers to the strike force, added a third last year.

"I think they've become much more effective throughout the period that I've
been here -- so that with the manpower they now have and the quality of
manpower they have now, the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force has evolved
into a credible organization," said Maj. Jack Banks, crime bureau commander
for the sheriff's department, one of seven agencies which loan officers to
the strike force.

From its inception as the Northern Kentucky Narcotics Enforcement Unit in
1978, the organization was beset with financial and administrative problems.

In 1992, a strike force narcotics officer resigned after admitting he lied
to a judge to obtain a search warrant.

That was followed by a continual turnover in leadership, including three
directors and as many interim directors before Paine was hired in 2001.

One of those directors, Daniel Steers, resigned after an employee accused
him of sexual harassment, an allegation that Steers said "damaged the
internal structure of the unit."

The problems weakened confidence in the force among law enforcement in
Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties, threatening their continued support of
the agency.

The force is funded through a federal grant that requires a 25 percent match
from participating counties. Strike force staff is made up of narcotics
officers "on loan" from Northern Kentucky city and county police forces.

Since he signed on, Paine, a former Utah police chief, has nearly doubled
the number of agents to 11 and added Grant County to the coverage area.

Accreditation builds on that good faith, Paine says, by increasing the
agency's accountability and professionalism and decreasing its liability
risk in one of the most litigious areas of law enforcement.

Kentucky Police Chiefs Association Accreditation Manager Mike Bischoff
praised the agency's performance.

"With a drug strike force, the main thing is to incorporate all the national
standards into their property room,'' he said. "And they did establish their
own policies and procedures -- which promotes accountability in the people
that work there and enhances the reputation of the agency."

Well-defined procedures also help the community accurately measure both
strike force performance and community drug problems by defining how drug
seizures are measured and what kinds of investigations are included in
annual case counts.

In the past, Paine said the definition of an open case sometimes changed
with the agency's director, making it difficult to draw any conclusions from
performance data much before 2001.

Nonetheless, the data shows that open cases and arrests have increased since
1997. Sharp increases are reported in seizures of key illegal drugs like
cocaine, crack, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamines, and in drug labs busted
over the last six years.

In fact, the total heroin and drug lab seizures from the first four months
of this year have already topped the number for all of last year.
Accreditation, an ongoing process renewed every five years, works to
continue the agency's professional momentum, Bischoff said.

The process already appears to be paying off.

Since January, both Newport and Highland Heights police have loaned officers
to the strike force, Paine said. And Alexandria police are loaning officers
as part of a short-term intern program.

Ultimately, more agents leads to increased arrests and drug and property
seizures, which produce more money and community support. In other words,
success breeds greater success.

"They've had the opportunity to have some sizable seizures that have enabled
the unit to upgrade themselves from working with secondhand equipment they
have a hard time working with to a pretty good range of equipment," said
Campbell County Police Chief David Sandfoss, whose department has loaned two
officers to the strike force.

"But good leadership is the key to all this. -- You still have to have the
best people driving the boat."

As news of this first strike force accreditation has spread, Bischoff said
other Kentucky strike force leaders have contacted him to begin their
accreditation efforts. Paine, who with his staff helped to establish the
framework for accreditation of such units, recommends the process highly.

"It lets us know we are doing things the right way," he said. "It helps us
to stay focused on what we're doing. But it's not something that once you
achieve it you're done with. -- It's really an ongoing self-assessment
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