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June 1, 2007 - Drug War Chronicle (US)

US Senate Passes Bill to Restore Drug Task Force Grants

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The US Senate voted last Friday to approve legislation that will restore the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, which supplies funding to state and local law enforcement that allows those agencies to create multi-agency drug task forces. The legislation would reauthorize the Byrne/JAG grants for another five years at their 2006 funding level of about $200 million a year.

The program has been harshly criticized not only by those who cite numerous drug task force abuses, but also by those critical of wasteful, inefficient programs. Two years ago, the taxpayer group Citizens Against Government Waste issued a scathing report on wasteful drug policy spending.

"Designed chiefly to curb drug trafficking across America's borders, the program has become a drug prevention funding free-for-all for power-hungry politicians to bring home the bacon to their districts at the taxpayers' expense, and has decreased drug enforcement in areas where it is critically needed," the group found.

The Bush administration has been trying to eliminate the Byrne/JAG grant program as a cost-saving measure, but the powerful law enforcement lobby screamed bloody murder. The move to restore funding was endorsed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriff's Association, the National Association of Police Organizations, the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, the National District Attorneys' Association, the National Criminal Justice Association, the State Association of Addiction Services, the National Policy Legal Action Center, the National Association of Counties, the National Alliance of State Drug Enforcement Agencies, the Major City Chiefs Association, the Major County Sheriffs Association, the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, the National HIDTA Directors Association, and the National Troopers Coalition.

Supporters of the drug task force grants led by Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) managed to round up 51 co-sponsors to the bill. Cops and politicians alike were crowing about their victory after the vote.

"The Senate has approved legislation to reauthorize the Byrne/JAG grants for five additional years. At a time when this country is seeing the biggest surge in violent crime it has experienced in more than a decade, we must fund programs like Byrne/JAG," Sen. Feinstein said.

"These grants are critical to supporting multi-jurisdictional task forces in their fight against drug and firearm traffickers, gangs, and organized crime. The Byrne/JAG program has shown real results for more than two decades, and these funds will allow the successes to continue."

"I have heard first-hand from Georgia's law enforcement community that this funding is critical to their efforts in fighting crime and drugs and keeping our citizens in both rural and urban communities safe," said Sen. Chambliss. "If we're going to call upon folks to do more, then we have to provide the resources they need to carry out their duties. Planning for and providing robust funding for this effective program is essential to the folks we rely on to keep us and our families safe."

"The National Sheriffs' Association would like to thank Senator Feinstein for her continued leadership to combat gangs and her tireless efforts to ensure that this vital law enforcement program is revitalized," said National Sheriffs' Association President Ted Kamatchus, of Marshall County, Iowa.

"The IACP applauds the Senate's passage of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Reauthorization (Byrne-JAG)," said Chief Joseph C. Carter, Chief of the MBTA Transit Police and President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).

"This measure would help law enforcement agencies fight against drug abuse, crime, and violence, and it would improve the criminal justice system. The Byrne-JAG Program has consistently provided valuable and critical resources to state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies, and the IACP urges the House of Representatives to approve this legislation."

"The National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, representing the interests of nearly 70,000 narcotic officers in 43 states across the country, would like to thank Senator Feinstein and the fifty-two co-sponsors of S.231 for recognizing the importance of extending the current authorization of the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program.

"This program's reauthorization will provide resources that are vital to America's narcotic officers -- helping them keep neighborhoods safe from the increasing threat of gangs and drugs in America's communities," National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition President Ron Brooks.

Now it's on to the House, where it will likely be equally difficult to stop the law enforcement juggernaut.

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