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By BOB WHITE
HARDIN COUNTY — The Greater Hardin County Narcotics Task Force will not cease operations in June, despite a two-thirds cut in federal supplementary funds, officials say.
Wayne Edwards, task force director, warned of a possible shutdown late last year after Congress passed a budget including a 67 percent reduction to the federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grant announced at the beginning of the year.
The Byrne grant supplements anti-gang and counter-drug agencies throughout the nation.
Edwards said the receipt of a $40,000 meth grant, recently obtained by U.S. Rep Ron Lewis, R-Cecilia, will help the task force stay afloat a while longer, as restoration of the Byrne grant is debated among politicians.
Lewis, in a written statement, said he will continue to fight for task force funding. He said he was “disappointed” task force support wasn’t a higher priority with the Appropriations Committee.
Attorneys general, state and federal representatives and law enforcement officials have been pushing for restoration of Byrne grant funds since the cuts were announced. No formal announcement has been made on restoration of the money.
“We’re still waiting on some kind of word on the (Byrne) issue,” Edwards said.
A representative of Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy said Monday that doors to most Kentucky task forces would be kept open in 2008, Edwards said.
“That sounds encouraging,” Edwards said.
Unlike some drug task forces throughout Kentucky, the Hardin County-based agency does not rely on Byrne funds to pay for police personnel. The grant pays Edwards’ salary, the salaries of two administrative personnel and overhead costs such as rent and payments to informants.
The 10 agents on the task force are provided by local city and county governments through their respective police departments.
Money from auctioned property seized during investigations can supplement the task force, but Edwards said such seizures are unreliable when preparing a budget.
In 2007, the agency seized more than $300,000 in property from drug dealers. During that same year, task force agents initiated 884 investigations resulting in 622 arrests.
Those investigations produced 393 felony and 172 misdemeanor convictions in Hardin County courts.
Budget concerns for drug task forces in Kentucky are nothing new.
Each year since 2004, headlines have noted reduced Byrne funds availability, but Edwards and other task force directors say the two-thirds cut to the Byrne grant this year have put their agencies in far worse financial shape than ever before.
In 2000, the Byrne grant made nearly $7 million available to anti-gang and counter-drug agencies. In 2008, only $1.3 million was included in the federal budget. As the Byrne grant shrinks, counter-terrorism allotments grow. Between 2007 and 2008, federal spending for state homeland security, urban safety and counter-terrorism programs and activities grew by 20 to 40 percent, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
While hundreds push for restoration of Byrne grant money, some work to remind the public and politicians of problems associated to federally funded task forces.
Scott Henson, a former investigative journalist turned political activist from Texas, operates a Web site called Grits for Breakfast that speaks of fraud and abuse of Byrne allotments by task forces that previously operated in Texas.
During a February interview with The News-Enterprise, Henson said task forces in Texas became the poster children for dismantling the Byrne grant, because of a “defunct system of drug task forces.”
Henson said the “plug was pulled” by a Texas governor in 2006.
Edwards considers Texas problems “an exception to the rule” and said past abuse of Byrne grant money is unfortunate but shouldn’t be held against hard working legitimate task forces such as those here in Kentucky.
“Deal with the problem, don’t take a shotgun approach to the issue,” he said.
Bob White can be reached
at (270) 505-1750.