Drugs, Budgets, and the Sheriff’s Office

7 Jul

A Post-Dispatch article (that may or may not have been ripped off by officer.com) discusses some problem-solving at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s and Prosecutor’s Offices. A backup at state and county crime labs makes it hard to charge drug offenders, so the county has adapted:

Smaller counties, such as Jefferson County, use the Missouri Highway Patrol lab, where the wait is about four to six months, said Cpl. Tim Whitney of the county Sheriff’s Department.

Another tool has proved helpful in Jefferson County. Prosecutors rely on field test kits, which change colors when narcotics are detected on a scene, to charge drug suspects while lab results are pending.

Narcotics detectives in Jefferson County get about 100 tests in a box for about $100 and have never had conflicting results with lab tests, Whitney said.

“Especially with the repeat customer, they are really helpful in preventing them from hurting themselves or others,” he said.

Jefferson County Prosecutor Forrest Wegge began using the kits as probable cause about five years ago. Charging offenders instead of waiting for lab results helps get offenders into rehabilitation or drug courts sooner, Wegge said.

This is another example of the county law enforcement apparatus doing a lot with a little. Unfortunately, the little they have is about to get smaller:

Funding cuts mean that the county’s busy drug task force is being reduced from 10 members to seven or eight.

A couple of grants are expiring, so manpower at the task force is being cut. Here’s why it hurts:

The task force was on pace to investigate 400 meth labs this year in Jefferson County, “which is unprecedented,” Whitney added. The previous record was 314 labs in 2004.

Meanwhile, eight deaths in Jefferson County this year are being investigated as heroin-related.

Whitney said that, on a typical day, the group’s tip line gets 10 to 20 tips. They usually try to follow up on those tips within a day or two because the 10-person task force could run in two teams to check out reports of a meth lab, for example. Now, response time will be slower because they won’t have two teams, he said. Investigators like to work in teams with no fewer than four members each.

Now I’m not a big drug warrior. Perhaps Jefferson County could do like Chicago and issue citations, not arrests, for marijuana possession. That would free up officers and jail space, and maybe increase revenues to the county, while allowing greater focus to be placed on the hard drugs.

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