Pubdate: Sat, 26 Jun 2004
Source: Kentucky Post (KY)
Copyright: 2004 Kentucky Post
Author: Shelly Whitehead, Post staff reporter
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Popular)


Three months into his new job as leader of the Northern Kentucky Drug
Strike Force, veteran law officer Jim Liles says it's obvious that the
elite unit has shed its former image problems and gained prominence
for its expertise in finding the drug world's bad guys. Now, however,
the agency has a new challenge: finding the funding to ensure its future.

Liles sees that as one of his primary tasks in the years ahead.
Fortunately, the retired 27-year veteran of the Covington Police
Department knows the area and has some very definite ideas about how
to drum up financial support to keep the unit working, perhaps in an
area larger than the four Northern Kentucky counties it now covers.
Six months after Liles retired from an assistant chief's job in
Covington, the strike force's governing board hired him as director in
March. He succeeded Jim Paine, whom Liles credits with greatly
improving the professional image and effectiveness of the force, which
for years was mired in problems that tarnished the agency's good name
and hindered its mission. In the 1990s, the strike force saw one agent
resign after admitting he lied to a judge, and one director quit after
an employee accused him of sexual harassment. Between 1992 and 2001,
the force had three directors and three interim directors before Paine
was hired. During his tenure with the agency, Paine doubled the number
of strike force agents, added Grant County to the coverage area and
obtained Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police accreditation for
the unit, the first in the state to do so. Liles said his immediate
goal is to broaden the unit's financial base by appealing to both
private and public interests.

This summer, Liles will send letters to 300 local businesses, seeking
funds to assist the agency in its efforts to fight a problem many
employers see daily in the workplace. "We'll ask them to join us in a
partnership in the local community," Liles said. "Toyota and other big
businesses -- they support many local groups to fight problems in the
community and drugs are a big problem. -- It's everybody's battle,
really." Liles believes the strike force boundaries for that battle
must expand to include bordering rural Northern Kentucky counties.

He is currently working with officials in Gallatin, Carroll and Owen
counties to widen the strike force's area of jurisdiction. He said
while rural county law enforcement agencies can rarely afford to
dedicate adequate manpower to specifically target drug crimes, such
areas have real drug problems. Rural acreage continues to support the
majority of the annual marijuana crop tucked away in the fields and
forests of Kentucky. And those who operate methamphetamine labs have
long sought out remote, rural locations to operate their volatile
production facilities. A 2002 U.S. Department of Justice-funded study
of multi-jurisdictional drug task forces found that drug enforcement
problems in rural areas are "often equal to or greater than those
faced by suburban task forces" and that "rural areas do have
significant drug problems." Liles agrees and sees an opportunity for
the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force to both help, and be helped
by, rural county participation. He said the mostly likely form of help
from the three counties would be in the form of staff.. Grant County
currently supports the unit by providing a sheriff's deputy to the
agency. Liles also hopes the strike force can begin working with
similar enforcement agencies in Ohio and Indiana to obtain a special
federal designation for the tri-state that could open up a new source
of drug-fighting funds. "Ideally, I'd like to see the region,
including Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, become a HIDTA," Liles said.
HIDTAs -- High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas -- are multi-county
and, sometimes, multi-state areas, which federal authorities identify
as centers of illegal drug activity where enforcement agencies are in
need of substantial additional funding to boost their efforts.

The closest HIDTAs to the tri-state are in 27 southeastern Kentucky
counties, part of the three-state Appalachian HIDTA, formed in 1998,
and in Cleveland. Liles said Northern Kentucky and the rest of the
tri-state are prime candidates for HIDTA designation. "There's so much
trafficking here because of the location of the area, the proximity to
the northern states and that I-75 is a major corridor.

There are a lot of drugs coming into Cincinnati from Mexico. So I
think there's a lot of work to be done and it's going to take funding
to do that," Liles said. "I'd like to get our unit, with other area
task forces, together and start a federally funded task force in
Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky." Boone, Campbell and Kenton County
governments each will provide about $100,000 to the strike force's
upcoming fiscal year budget of $600,000. The agency will also receive
about $187,000 in federal funds through the Bureau of Justice
Assistance's Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement
Assistance Program, which also helps fund approximately 800 other
regional drug enforcement units nation-wide. Drug forfeiture funds
will make up the remaining 2004-2005 funding pool for the strike
force. Liles admits his goals for the 26-year-old force are ambitious.

But he believes such measures are absolutely essential to both
sustaining the agency's existence and keeping Northern Kentucky's
ever-growing drug problem in check. Those who know the 56-year-old law
enforcement veteran say if anyone can handle the task at hand, Liles
can. Though his stoic demeanor might not reveal it, Liles has a real
enthusiasm for his new job that friends say has clearly become a
continuation of a career-long love affair with the work of specialized
law enforcement units. Liles was a founding member of one of the first
Special Weapons and Tactics teams in the tri-state at the Covington
Police Department in 1978. His dedication to that unit was so strong
that he wrote a 122-page history of the team three years ago as his
senior project at Cincinnati's Union Institute. "Jim always did
everything the way it was supposed to be done," said Covington
Assistant Police Chief Lt. Col. Dave Finan. "He prided himself in
knowing what the law was and the different interpretations of it. -- I
know our relationship with the drug strike force -- because Jim is
there -- is probably going to be a lot better." Strike force agents
have developed a similar confidence in their new leader's capabilities
over the last few months.

Strike Force Sgt. Rusty Ellis said Liles is one of those rare leaders
who can follow when needed, without losing command of the group.

That may prove invaluable as he pursues a wider base of support for
the force in the years ahead. "He's impressed everybody here," Ellis
said. "He came in as a leader.

But -- rather than saying, 'Here's what I want done,' he came in and
watched us and saw how we do things here -- and only then did he start
to step into guiding things to the way he wants things to go here."


About Jim Liles

.  Age: 56

.  Residence: Edgewood

.  Family: married 34 years to wife, Erna; two children and three

.  Education: bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice -- Union Institute,
Cincinnati; FBI National Academy graduate

.  Previous experience: 27 years with Covington Police Department; founding
member of Covington SWAT team

.  Military service: Vietnam War veteran; awarded the Purple Heart 
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