Pubdate: Fri, 15 Nov 2013
Source: Times-Standard (Eureka, CA)
Copyright: 2013 Times-Standard
Author: Thadeus Greenson



The Office of National Drug Control Policy on Thursday designated
Humboldt County as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, opening the
door for more federal dollars and officers.

Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey, who has long lobbied for the
designation, said Humboldt County's new status should open up some new
funding opportunities, bring new resources to the table and generally
foster a deeper partnership between local and federal agencies. Other
local officials agreed, saying they are hopeful the designation will
aid efforts to get the county's drug problems under control.

"I don't want to be melodramatic, but I don't think too many people
would dispute that we have high levels of drug activity in our
communities," said Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos. "I
think this is an appropriate designation. We are stretched thin."

Created by Congress in 1988, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area
(HIDTA) program is designed to help foster coordination between
federal, state and local law enforcement agencies operating in areas
deemed to be critical drug trafficking regions of the United States.
Specifically, the designation is intended to help federal and local
agencies share intelligence and resources in coordinated enforcement
efforts. There are currently 28 designated areas in the U.S., and
Humboldt County will join 11 other Northern California counties as a
part of the Northern California HIDTA.

"Humboldt's resources and manpower are stretched to the limit to
combat methamphetamine use and the rise of widespread, environmentally
destructive trespass marijuana grows on private and public lands,
often associated with trafficking by drug cartels," North Coast
Congressman Jared Huffman said in a statement issued Thursday. "The
situation in Humboldt County is critical and this designation will
bring federal resources and expertise to the table to help safeguard
the safety and welfare of Humboldt County residents."

Downey said Huffman and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency were critical
in helping garner the designation. Saying he's hopeful the county's
new status will open up some funding doors for enforcement efforts,
Downey said he doesn't think federal help will be limited to marijuana
cases, noting that the DEA and his office are currently working on a
number of other drug cases.

Gallegos said he hopes the federal help won't be limited to pot

"Drugs are a big issue in this community," he said. "When you really
look at our communities, although we talk about marijuana all the
time, what's impacting our communities, it's heroin, methamphetamine,
prescription drugs, alcohol and -- yes -- marijuana, too."

Officials seem to agree that when it comes to marijuana grows, it's
the large-scale operations involving environmental violations and
threats of violence that are the enforcement priority. Gallegos said
Downey deserves credit for pushing for this designation in order to
bring more tools to the table.

Downey -- who penned a letter to the Office of National Drug Control
Policy asking for the designation and has long had his office bombard
its federal partners with its press releases to make them aware of
Humboldt County's drug problems -- said he didn't expect Thursday's
designation. The sheriff said he'd been warned that due to funding
cuts, no new HIDTAs were likely to be added this year.

"I did not expect the designation," he said. "I was kind of shocked,
but very, very happy to hear it had finally come about."
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