Pubdate: Tue, 20 Sep 2005
Source: Daily Sentinel (TX)
Copyright: 2005 Cox Newspapers, Inc.
Author: Emily Taravella, The Daily Sentinel
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


The Deep East Texas Narcotics Task Force faces an uncertain future, with 
regard to program funding.

"We were notified that the funding, as we know it, will end March 31, 
2006," Sheriff Thomas Kerss said. "It will be replaced with something else, 
but no one knows exactly what that will consist of or what it will mean for 
local jurisdictions."

The one thing that Kerss does know is that East Texas and other areas 
throughout the state will experience a significant loss in law-enforcement 
resources, come April 1.

Drug task forces throughout the state have been scrambling to find funding, 
since Congress cut the allocation Texas receives through the Edward Byrne 
Memorial grant by nearly a third.

Late last spring, County Judge Sue Kennedy received notification from the 
governor's office advising her that the existing grant could be extended 
through Sept. 30. Commissioners requested and received the extension and 
waited to see what would happen next.

On Sept. 16 Kerss received notification by e-mail that the county could 
apply for a six-month funding cycle due to start Oct. 1 and end March 31.

"We have to fill out our application and get it submitted to the Criminal 
Justice Division of the governor's office before the end of September," he 
said. "That's not much time to complete the task or to think this through."

Although the governor's office has indicated some funds will still be 
available in the future, for narcotics task forces, Kerss said there has 
been no clear indication as to how that money will be dispersed.

"It may be mid-to late-March before we know," he said. "It's too early to 
predict what this means, but needless to say, we're disappointed in the 
decision and the way it's come about."

Some larger metropolitan areas may step up their own operations to adjust 
for losses, Kerss said.

In rural areas, local jurisdictions that are member agencies of the task 
force won't be able to absorb the positions, he said.

"The direct end result means fewer officers on the streets fighting the 
single greatest crime problem we face today," he said. "Either directly or 
indirectly, close to 90 percent of the crimes we face today are associated 
with drugs in some way, shape or fashion. We're about to remove an 
enforcement branch geared solely to that type of enforcement activity."

Kerss said it is his opinion that those in the criminal justice division of 
the governor's office are making decisions based on negative publicity 
surrounding the activities of other task forces, such as the one in Tulia 
where 44 people - 37 of whom were black - were arrested by a white officer 
working alone without audio or video surveillance. Gov. Rick Perry later 
granted pardons to 35 of those convicted.

"That was in 1999, and there have been a number of proactive measures put 
in place to ensure those types of situations don't reoccur," Kerss said. 
"In my opinion, his office is reacting to something that has been addressed 
and rectified."

Ironically, Kerss said the governor's decision comes on the heels of the 
federal government announcing intentions to add dollars to narcotics 
enforcement grant funds that were initially cut.

"Because people who are dependent on drugs commit other crimes - if we 
don't have narcotics enforcement taking place - it leaves us susceptible in 
other areas," he said. "I'm worried about the negative impact this could 
have on our community, as a whole, and what it will do for crime rates 
across the state."

Kerss said he's concerned about the 22 employees who work for the Deep East 
Texas Narcotics Task Force and their families.

"Eight agencies are represented by this task force," he said. "It's 
frustrating. I don't think this decision was made with due consideration 
for how it's going to affect our local citizens and those throughout Texas."

Kerss said the annual budget for the task force is $1.16 million, of which 
the state funded a little more than 50 percent.

Roughly 40 percent was funded by project income, which includes all other 
revenues including forfeiture and member agency participation fees, he said.

Each participating agency provides $13,900.

The nine participating agencies in the Deep East Texas Regional Narcotics 
Trafficking Task Force include Diboll, Angelina County, Crockett, Houston 
County, Nacogdoches and Nacogdoches County, Hemphill and Sabine County and 
Tyler County.
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