Local drug task force to go up in smoke by end of year
summit daily news
SUMMIT COUNTY – Financial shortages this year will likely bring an end to the Summit County Drug Task Force, an organization that has existed in some form for more than 20 years.
“It’s gonna go bye-bye,” Summit County Sheriff John Minor said. “I don’t know how we’ll have the capacity to conduct undercover operations, but we’re still going to have to figure that out.”
He said the task force will probably be dissolved some time between June and September. Its roughly $200,000 annual budget – split among local municipalities and state grants – has taken significant funding hits and is down to one agent.
The budget included two full-time agents, a half-time administrative person and expenses for equipment, undercover buy money and payments for confidential information. It was a centralized effort that developed about 60 of its own cases per year.
“When you have a dedicated drug task force, I think you can focus on getting drugs off the streets – so there is a definite public safety impact,” District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said. “Now when you take that away, certainly you remove some of that focus.”
A state advisory board administering Justice Assistance Grants has turned priorities to drug treatment for inmates, prevention programs, drug courts and management information systems for law enforcement agencies.
Hurlbert has been working toward getting a drug court in Summit County this year, but said that a drug task force remains necessary.
“The problem is, you’ve got to catch them first,” he said. “A drug task force along with the drug court – I think that is the most effective way to do it.”
Lance Clem, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Safety said that previously “drug task forces were a major use of the (JAG) funds,” but that the funding began to decrease about six to seven years ago.
He said the board has put “all drug task forces on notice” that they may soon need to find another way to support themselves.
Minor said that local governments have had to increase their contributions as the grant funding decreased, but that when the “economy dropped totally in the tank” it “left everyone kind of in a bind.”
“We can’t contribute the full amount, so it was decided that as soon as the money runs out, it’s going to be disbanded,” he said.
He said detectives across the county will continue monthly meetings, and that technology and communications have improved enough in recent years to help with coordination.
But with the task force disbanded, individual police departments and the sheriff’s office will be conducting their own drug investigations.
“We’re still seeing narcotics, cocaine, prescription abuse (and fraud) … We’ll still have to deal with those,” Minor said.
When the task force disbands, Minor said the one remaining agent on it won’t be laid off – for there’s a vacant position held open to bring that person back to patrol.
Minor said that while undercover operations will be affected by the task force’s disbandment, many tips come from the public and “if it’s something big enough, obviously we’re going to call the DEA.”
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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