Pubdate: Sat, 29 Sep 2007
Source: Clarion-Ledger, The (Jackson, MS)
Copyright: 2007 The Clarion-Ledger
Author: Jimmie E. Gates


State's Units Investigate Street-Level Trafficking, Homicides And Burglaries

The future of the state's 14 multijurisdictional  narcotics task
forces was left in limbo Friday with  uncertainty over funding for the
new fiscal year that  begins Monday.

A committee appointed by Mississippi Department of  Public Safety
Commissioner George Phillips has not  approved funding for the task
forces, said Claiborne  County Sheriff Frank Davis, whose county is a
member of  the North Central Narcotics Task Force.

The task forces attack street-level drug trafficking  and also
investigate major crimes such as homicides and  burglaries.

"We went through this same thing last year," Davis said  of the task
force that serves his county. "As it stands  right now, we have not
been funded." Other counties in  the eight-member North Central
Narcotics Task Force are  Tunica, Coahoma, Grenada, Holmes, Humphreys,
Leflore  and Yazoo.

Four employees of the North Central Task Force, the  state's largest,
will be out of work beginning Monday  if no money is appropriated by
then, said Holmes County  Sheriff Willie March. He questioned why task
force  members must wait to learn if they will receive money  from the
Byrne Justice Assistance Grant. About $1  million of the nearly $3
million grant is to go to the  task forces, he said.

Phillips couldn't be reached Friday.

When asked about the funding, DPS spokeswoman Delores  Lewis replied,
"The committee is still deliberating."

But Davis said the committee isn't scheduled to meet  again until Oct.

Last year, only the North Central Task Force had to  wait for

Davis said the federal government appropriated even  more money for
the new fiscal year than this current  fiscal year.

"I can't understand it when you have counties totally  depending on
the task force to stop drug dealers,"  Davis said.

The North Central Narcotics Task Force has worked  between 400 and 500
cases from September 2006 to this  September, March said.

DPS said last year the federal funding had dropped from  $5.3 million
in 2003 to about $2 million because of a  shift from drug interdiction
to homeland security.

Then, DPS warned all multi-jurisdictional task forces  to reduce
spending by 25 percent.

Last year, two days before the beginning of the new  fiscal year, the
North Central task force was notified  its budget had been eliminated
based on performance  standards, the most significant of which were
arrests.  A sheet used to compare the effectiveness of task  forces
showed the North Central task force made 35 drug  arrests in 2005, but
local officials said DPS erred in  its calculations.

Funding was restored in mid-October until December of  2006. It was
then restored for the entire fiscal year.
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