Pubdate: Thu, 01 Dec 2011 Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA) Copyright: 2011 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Contact: http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/letters/sendletter.html Website: http://www.ajc.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/28 Author: Andria Simmons, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution FLAP THROWS OFF METH LAB TRACKING Federal Funding Runs Out, Forcing Local Officers to Pay for Cleanup It's anyone's guess now whether methamphetamine production is rising or falling in Georgia. That's because a funding flap in Washington has thrown what was previously the best system for counting clandestine meth labs into uncertainty. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which used to track the number of meth labs by counting the number of requests for financial assistance from local law enforcement agencies, can no longer rely on that method. Federal funding for disposing of the toxic waste from clandestine meth labs ran out nine months ago, forcing police departments and sheriff's offices in Georgia to pick up a tab that last year amounted to more than $500,000. Federal meth lab cleanup money through the Community Oriented Policing Services program ran out in February and was not renewed by Congress. President Barack Obama signed a wide-ranging appropriations bill in November that restored $12.5 million for cleaning up meth lab waste. But it's not yet known whether Georgia will be among the states that benefit, DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said. Now the local police agencies no longer have an incentive to report meth labs to the DEA, which previously kept accurate records, said Special Agent Fred Stephens of the GBI. Up until this year, those records showed clandestine meth lab incidents, such as lab seizures, were soaring in Georgia, from 165 in 2009 to 289 in 2010 -- a 75 percent increase. Police still can submit information about meth lab incidents to the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center or to the GBI's website. Those statistics, however, are not as reliable because both systems rely on voluntary submissions. "Right now we really have no way of knowing the number of labs that have been found since March," Stephens said, "and that's tragic." Meth labs require extra care when authorities dismantle them because cooking meth involves a combination of chemicals that are explosive and potentially deadly if breathed in or ingested. Police use statistics on the number of clandestine meth labs in Georgia to gauge the effectiveness of their efforts. The statistics also help state officials decide how to appropriate money to law enforcement. Fortunately, the GBI expects to begin funding waste disposal costs for meth labs by January with $420,000 that Gov. Nathan Deal appropriated from the state's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The GBI should then be able to count meth labs the same way that the DEA did. So far, local law enforcement agencies have not griped about the unanticipated cost of disposing of toxic meth lab waste, said Frank Rotondo, executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police. Police officials in Atlanta and Cobb and DeKalb counties said they had not incurred any significant expenses from meth lab investigations during that time. Gwinnett County said it struck a deal with the DEA to pay for them. The Newton County Sheriff's Office incurred about $2,500 in costs after responding to two small meth lab incidents in the past few months, said its spokesman, Lt. Tyrone Oliver. That stung a little for a department that has for three years made every employee holiday an unpaid furlough day to save money. "With our agency and all the budget stuff we're facing," Oliver said, "that money could have been spent on necessity items." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.