Pubdate: Thu, 01 Dec 2011
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
Copyright: 2011 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Author: Andria Simmons, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 


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

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

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

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."
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