Pubdate: Sun, 26 Feb 2006
Source: Lufkin Daily News (TX)
Copyright: 2006 The Lufkin Daily News
Author: Emily Taravella, Cox East Texas
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


NACOGDOCHES -- With the closing of the Deep East Texas Narcotics
Trafficking Task Force a few weeks away the question remains, "What
does the future hold, with regard to drug enforcement in rural East

Ten agencies participate in the DETNTTF, including sheriff's offices
in Nacogdoches, Angelina, Houston, Sabine and Tyler counties, and
police departments in Nacogdoches, Diboll, Crockett, Hemphill and Woodville.

County officials have set about the difficult task of dismantling the
organization, turning over pending cases to individual jurisdictions
and allocating assets.

The Nacogdoches Police Department will increase its street crimes unit
from two officers to four officers, to help compensate for the loss of
the task force. Sheriff Thomas Kerss has said he doesn't know how the
sheriff's department will cope with the loss.

"We're doing good to cover what we've got, with the resources we
have," he said, in a prior interview.

Some rural counties have already disbanded their narcotics task

The North East Texas Narcotics Task Force, comprised of the Henderson
and Carthage police departments and Rusk County and Panola County
sheriff's departments, dissolved last year.

HPD Assistant Chief Ronnie Walker said task force employees were
basically split among the different participating agencies.

"It was a pretty good chore, shutting it down," he said. "But so far,
we've been successful. In some ways, we feel it benefitted us. We get
to deal with our local people more, instead of targeting major drug

Walker said HPD designated two positions for narcotics enforcement.
One of those came from the patrol division, and the other is being
funded with left-over task force funds.

"Hopefully, we'll have some seizures to help pay for the new position,
in the future," he said. (Agencies are allowed to seize money,
vehicles or other items connected to illegal drug activity.)

The Dogwood Trails Narcotics Task Force -- comprised of the Rusk and
Palestine police departments, the Cherokee County, Anderson County and
Houston County sheriff's departments, the Texas Department of Public
Safety, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and the Texas Inspector
General's Office -- will try to hang on a little longer, according to
Cherokee County Sheriff James Campbell.

"In rural areas, the biggest threat to citizens is the use and sale of
illegal drugs," Campbell said. "By taking the Byrne grant funding, it
severely cripples law enforcement."

Congress cut the allocation Texas receives through the Edward Byrne
Memorial grant by nearly a third.

However, Campbell said the participating agencies in the DTNTF will
hold on as long as they can.

The Jacksonville Daily Progress reported Feb. 10 that Rusk city
council members pledged $7,500 to the task force. The plan is to try
to raise enough local support to keep the task force afloat until new
funding is allocated by the state, according to the article.

Whether the state will provide any future funding for task forces is

Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, said his office has been working
closely with the governor's office.

"We have encouraged them to continue looking for resources to assist
the regional task forces," he said. "Unfortunately, with the
significant reduction of federal funds through the Justice Assistant
Grant program, many task forces have not been able to continue. Drug
task forces have provided an outstanding service to our rural
communities. Narcotics trafficking and production in rural Texas is a
difficult problem to address, and I will continue to work with state
agencies to find ways to better assist our local law enforcement in
their efforts to combat the ever-present war on drugs."

Rachael Novier, deputy press secretary for Gov. Rick Perry's office,
said fighting drugs and the crime associated with drugs is one of the
governor's highest priorities.

She also said federal funding is the problem.

"We had $33 million available for these types of law enforcement
initiatives in 2004," she said. "In fiscal year 2006, it dropped to
$14 million. That's a huge cut. What the governor is focused on, is
getting these limited funds to local communities as quickly as
possible to fund programs that have the biggest impact."

Novier said the governor's office encourages local law enforcement to
use creative, aggressive tactics and strategies to fight drugs in

"It's also important to know that the governor's efforts to keep drugs
from crossing our porous border has a huge impact on the drug and
crime problems throughout Texas and beyond, into the United States,"
she said. "If we can clamp down on the ability to operate there, it
affects the impact of drug-related crime throughout Texas. We're doing
the best we can with limited funds."

With regard to federal funding cuts, U.S. Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Tyler,
said it was regrettable that funds were reduced to help with other
Homeland Security efforts.

Amos Snead, Gohmert's communications director, said Gohmert knows how
terribly important the local task forces have been, from Sabine County
in the southeast to Upshur in the northwest.

"Rep. Gohmert has contacted Gov. Perry to express his support for the
local drug task force, but will also be pushing in Washington to get
funds back in the budget to assist in such an important law
enforcement effort," Snead said. "He is friends with many of our local
sheriffs and understands their plight. Even without federal
assistance, we understand that some local leaders will still be trying
to implement a plan that will continue the fight against drugs."

State Rep. Roy Blake, R-Nacogdoches, said he began working with County
Judge Sue Kennedy and Kerss as soon as they heard about the funding

"We had a meeting in Austin with the governor's office, and we tried
to get a handle on exactly what was happening," he said. "The money is
no longer there. The Deep East Texas Narcotics Task Force was a model
task force, and it achieved exactly what the grant intended. So far,
we haven't seen any replacement funds, so our challenge is to work
with the resources we have to make sure law enforcement efforts
continue. We'll try to find funds, in the future."

Nacogdoches Safe and Drug Free is one of the agencies that has rallied
hard, to try to save the task force.

The agency will now focus on one of its primary functions -- which is
drug prevention.

Terrie Mayfield, community mobilization specialist for Nacogdoches
Safe and Drug Free, said education programs are conducted in area
elementary, middle and high schools.

"We also have anti-drug clubs and programs," she said. "We have really
active groups at Mike Moses and McMichael middle schools."

Printed materials are provided to teach people about drugs and where
to go for help, Mayfield said.

"These resources are available to everyone in the community," she
said. "Samaritan Counseling also does some education programs."

Curriculum is actually taught in the elementary schools, Mayfield
said. The materials come from the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council, in
Lufkin. she said.

Cushing and Central Heights have drug-free programs, and Mayfield said
local law enforcement officers also help with the dissemination of

"Anyone who wants help can come to our office for screening, if they
think they're addicted to drugs," Mayfield said. "We can help people
get the treatment they need."

Narcotics task forces have had their share of critics. One agency that
has been most outspoken is the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Web site states that, "Scandals, mismanagement and
skewed priorities at Texas drug task forces paid for by the federal
Byrne grant program appear to finally be catching up to the rogue
units. More have announced they'll close shop at the end of March when
Gov. Rick Perry will reportedly shut off their funds. In a major
shift, Texas' governor has chosen to spend that money on other
critical programs like drug courts and border security."

The Web site goes on to say, "The money teat has run dry, it seems,
for Texas' Tulia-style drug task forces. That's a good thing. The
money can be spent on many different types of programs, including drug
courts, drug treatment programs or strengthening probation."

Calls to the Houston and Austin offices of the ACLU were not returned
Thursday or Friday.