Pubdate: Fri, 28 May 2004
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Greg Cunningham
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


Entities Want Money Once Targeted To Task Force

The Amarillo Globe-News Cities and counties across the Texas Panhandle are 
making a play to hang on to federal funds that used to go to the region's 
soon-to-be-defunct narcotics task force. The Panhandle Regional Planning 
Commission gave approval Thursday to a grant application that would keep 
some of the lost funds in the area for use in youth drug treatment and 
drug-lab interdiction.

"We're trying to do something in advance of the end of this task force," 
said John Kiehl, regional services director with the PRPC. "The problem 
with the loss of this group is there will be a lot of communities and 
counties that will be left to hang with a drug problem that is not going away."

The PRPC is gathering support from cities and counties across the area to 
apply for grants from the governor's Criminal Justice Division. The CJD 
distributes federal funds, known as Byrne Grants, to regional task forces 
to fight narcotics.

The problem for the Panhandle is that in the wake of the controversial 1999 
Tulia drug sting, the area no longer has a task force.

As part of a $6 million settlement of a federal lawsuit, the city of 
Amarillo agreed to disband the task force effective the end of this month.

Because Amarillo disbanded the task force, it was forced to return all of 
the Byrne Grants to the state.

"We could have sat here and done nothing with the demise of the task 
force," said Gary Pitner, executive director of the PRPC. "But we thought 
this was an opportunity to go to the governor's office and try to keep some 
of that money in the Panhandle."

The plan involves asking the CJD to give the Panhandle some of the lost 
grant money to provide training and equipment for law enforcement officers 
to investigate and secure dangerous methamphetamine labs, a service the 
Panhandle task force used to provide.

The grant applications also will include a request for money to fund about 
$225,000 worth of drug education and treatment for youths, Kiehl said.

The two major obstacles to the grants are the timing and the cost.

"This will be kind of a roll of the dice, because the application deadline 
has passed," Kiehl said. "But we're trying to take advantage of this 
situation to make an attempt to keep some of that money."

The cost will also be a problem, because unlike the task force grants, any 
grants received in this round of funding would have to be matched with a 
25-percent payment.

The PRPC is planning to chip in $14,000 and use some creative funding to 
offset the match, but a city or county would still have to pay around $400 
for each officer trained in drug-lab interdiction.

The purchase of equipment used in that interdiction would also cost cities 
and counties a 25-percent match.

About nine counties and several cities have thrown backing behind the plan, 
including Potter and Randall counties.

Potter County approved a motion supporting the grant application Monday. 
Potter County Chief Deputy Ken Farren said it is crucial to get some assets 
in place to offset the loss of the drug task force.

"This drug problem is not going away," Farren said. "These (drug) labs are 
a big problem in this area, and we've got to have the training and 
equipment to deal with them."

While the narcotics enforcement grants are by no means a sure thing, the 
PRPC gave final approval to a significant grant for area law enforcement.

The grant, which is part of a $20 million statewide terrorism prevention 
program, will bring about $500,000 to the Panhandle to establish an 
anti-terrorism information exchange system and an automatic fingerprint 
tracking system.

Kiehl said the information system, known as the Joint Regional Information 
and Exchange System, will allow local law enforcement officers to report 
information to federal officials and allow the feds to send information 
down to the local level.

"The idea is that if someone at the local level sees something amiss, they 
can put that information into the system and it goes all up and down the 
pipeline," Kiehl said. "That's how things get stopped, is through sharing 
information and putting it all together."

The rest of the money will go toward establishing an automatic fingerprint 
information exchange, which would allow officers to instantly check through 
fingerprint analysis whether a suspect has a terrorist connection.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom