Pubdate: Sat, 10 Sep 2005 Source: Peoria Journal Star (IL) Copyright: 2005sPeoria Journal Star Contact: http://pjstar.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/338 Author: Molly Parker CUTS WOULD 'CRIPPLE' NARCOTICS GROUP PEORIA - An uncertain fate awaits a $625 million program that provides funding to state and local governments to fight narcotics. The director of the local narcotics group that depends on the federal money said three officers would have to be cut if the funding is drained. "Losing three (officers) would pretty much cripple us," said Larry Hawkins, director of the Multi-County Narcotics Enforcement Group, which covers Peoria, Tazewell, Stark and Marshall counties. "We're not going to be able to make near the arrests we make now so that means a lot of drug dealers out there will go untouched," he said. President Bush has proposed eliminating the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants. But it's possible Congress will restore the grants, or at least provide some funding in the fiscal year 2006 budget. The House has voted to fund the program at half of last year's level. A group of senators, including Illinois' Barack Obama, rallied this week to increase the funding program by about $275 million to $900 million. A Senate vote to increase the funds could be taken as early as Monday. "These funding cuts will be particularly devastating to communities in southern Illinois, where Byrne grants pay for a large percentage of crucial staff and infrastructure," Obama, a Democrat, said in a press release. Terry Lemming, statewide drug and gun enforcement coordinator for the Illinois State Police, said he's hesitant to talk about the impact of a grant cut until he knows the outcome. Bush recommended cutting the program last year also, but it was restored, he said. But "I would say it's looking less likely this year than it did last year," Lemming said. "That's because there are so many other priorities now with the federal government. "If the funding was cut in half, the units would likely be reduced to half their current size, and some might be in jeopardy of folding," he said. Hawkins said three officers are paid for largely through the grants, though he would not say how many officers the group totaled for security reasons. During the past three years, the group's work has resulted in about 900 drug-related felony arrests.