War on drugs to continue despite cuts

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Local law enforcement officials say they will continue the war on drugs despite a tighter budget.

Earlier this year, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) announced that it would slash the amount of federal grant dollars that it has funneled to Alabama’s local drug enforcement units for more than two decades as part of the Edward Byrne Memorial JAG Program. Task force directors were told earlier this year that as few as 10 of them might receive funding next year, and it likely wouldn’t be more than $50,000.

ADECA Director Jim Byard said the agency is looking to diversify its approach to combating illegal drugs and violent crime.

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“The three priority areas are going to be education/eradication, alternative courts/specialty courts, and enforcement,” Byard said. “This is a federal award and we at ADECA are accountable to the Department of Justice, and so what we’re trying to do is leverage the dollars we get across the 67 counties in the state.”

In recent years the Second Judicial Task Force, which is made up of officers with the Greenville Police Department and the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, as well representatives from the Butler County District Attorney’s Office, has received $60,000 from ADECA. That money has been used to help pay the salaries of task force members.

Task Force commanders learned earlier this year that the funds can also no longer be used to help pay salaries of task force members. With this year’s changes, local officials elected not to seek the grant.

“The requirements were modified in such a way that it just didn’t make sense for us to pursue the grant,” said Greenville Police Chief Lonzo Ingram. “In the past we used that money to help pay for salaries, but now we can’t use it for that.”

Brian Forster, law enforcement programs supervisor for ADECA’s Law Enforcement and Traffic Safety division, said the agency will no longer award Byrne money for drug units to pay salaries because he and the agency have become concerned that such arrangements may violate the Byrne grant program’s rules.

Even without the funds, Ingram and Butler County Sheriff Kenny Harden said they have no plans of disbanding the task force, which is made up of two officers from the GPD and a deputy from the BCSO.

“By having those three assigned to working nothing but drugs countywide, it has helped cut down on crime in Butler County,” Harden said. “If we did away with that program, we would see the crime rate go up. Drugs impact everything. We’re always going to have drugs, but when we can keep them to a minimum we are able to cut down on property crimes, assault cases, robberies and murder.”

Ingram said that while the grant money will be missed, not receiving it isn’t a reason to halt the operations of the task force.

“They have been very successful over the years,” Ingram said. “Doing things the way we have done has allowed us to get drugs out of the county and the city. It’s a win-win. I anticipate us continuing the task force.”