By Grant Bissell
Jefferson County, MO (KSDK) - Fighting the war on drugs just got tougher for police officers on the front lines. Major cuts in federal funding mean nearly every drug task force across Missouri is scaling back on officers, training and equipment.
The St. Louis County Task Force is facing a nearly 20 percent funding cut. Meanwhile, Jefferson County, long known as a hotbed for meth labs, will lose three members of its team. Corporal Tim Whitney, the Commander of the Jefferson County Municipal Enforcement Group, says this is bad news for everyone.
"Manpower is the most critical part of any police investigation," said Whitney. "And when you don't have enough manpower crimes may or may not be solved."
Whitney says when the Jefferson county municipal enforcement group was formed in 2001, there were 15 detectives. Because of previous budget cuts, the force had been reduced to 10. Now, with the loss of more than $60,000 in federal funding they'll have to operate with only seven detectives.
The three officers that will be lost from the drug task force will be reassigned to patrol positions. The good news is there won't be any fewer officers on the streets, but there will be 30 percent fewer officers looking for drugs in a county that's dealing with some serious meth and heroin issues.
According to the Missouri Department of Mental Health there were 253 meth labs busted in Jefferson County in 2011. That was the most state-wide.
"This year we're on pace to do nearly 400 meth labs, which would be our busiest year ever," said Whitney.
And then there's the heroin problem.
"Last year we experienced 16 overdose deaths," said Whitney. "And this year we've already experienced nine that are under investigation."
Cindy Pharis is the project director for Jefferson County P.R.I.D.E., a drug awareness group that partners with the sheriff's department. She's disgusted at the thought of these funding cuts.
"Our community, our county, for those of us doing substance abuse prevention, relies on that team," said Pharis.
The Byrne-JAG Grant that funds drug task forces is partly population-dependent. As Missouri's population continues to drop, the teams lose more and more federal money.
Pharis says that decision by lawmakers is a mistake.
"I don't think the rest of the state understands what that means for our communities, much less the rest of the country," said Pharis.
Sergeant Jason Grellner is president of the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association. He says the state originally promised to help make up the funding gap. But that hasn't happened. He wants to see people across the state call their senators and representatives and demand more funding be given to drug task forces.
In all, 22 task force members will be lost state-wide