Pubdate: Sat, 08 Jul 2006
Source: Southern Illinoisan (Carbondale, IL)
Copyright: 2006 Southern Illinoisan
Author: Andrea Hahn, The Southern
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


HARRISBURG - Four sheriffs whose counties will benefit from the 
$148,048 COPS Methamphetamine Initiative grant acted like kids at 
Christmas on Friday.

The sheriffs were joined at the Harrisburg City Hall by community and 
other law enforcement leaders from Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Pope 
and Saline counties at a check presentation and press conference 
featuring Republican U. S. Rep. John Shimkus, who was instrumental in 
securing the federal grant.

The grant was made to the Southeastern Illinois Planning Commission, 
which serves the five southeastern Illinois counties.

After the conference, during which everyone was appropriately serious 
but grateful, some of the law enforcement officers compared notes on 
the benefits they expected from the grant.

They were almost giddy when they talked about the surveillance 
equipment named in the grant - digital and video recorders, lens 
extenders, infrared trigger equipment and night vision equipment.

"This surveillance equipment is going to help me a whole bunch," Pope 
County Sheriff A.J. Sparks said. There are nights when he has only 
two deputies to patrol the entire 370 or so square miles of county.

The surveillance equipment may help the deputies make better use of 
what drug enforcement time they have. It might help the state police 
drug unit that works in Pope County to make the best use of its time. 
And it may help prosecute cases when they get to court.

Sparks' situation - not enough personnel to cover a wide, rural area 
- - is common to all five counties. So are county budgets that are too 
tight to allow even for regular upgrades to the county fleet of squad 
cars let alone for fancy equipment like field drug testing kits.

"This grant isn't a lifeline - it's a lifeboat," Hamilton County 
Sheriff Greg Brenner said. "This is the first grant we've had where 
we haven't had to match funds. We may not have the population, but 
we've got the anhydrous ammonia plants and the empty houses (in which 
to cook meth)."

Gallatin County State's Attorney Tom Foster said his county will be 
able to apply funds to add a full time law enforcement officer to act 
as a drug agent. They will also be able to add a part-time person for 
the office.

Other counties will be able to pay over-time to deputies and police 
officers for drug surveillance operations.

"The federal government decided to be a partner in this," Shimkus 
said. "(At the federal level) we really didn't have the money set 
aside for this - we had to earmark it (as a non-competitive meth 
enforcement grant). In rural Illinois we've just about stemmed the 
tide on new meth production. But we just had a summit in Effingham 
this week highlighting the fact that it is still a real threat."

Julie Patera, executive director of the Southeastern Illinois 
Regional Planning Commission, said the low population and rural 
nature of the five counties can make it easy to overlook them come 
grant time. That was one reason the planning commission took a 
leadership role in applying for the COPS grant, she said.

The grant was written by planning commission affiliate Dennis Presley.

COPS grants are administered through the United States Department of Justice.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman