FBI Roundup Brings More Drug War Funds

The FBI's cutback on drug war agents has law enforcement officials hollering that they need even more money to take up the slack.
Last week, DRCNet reported on the FBI's revamping in the wake of mounting concern over its performance in the events leading up to September 11 (www.drcnet.org/wol/239/html#fbi). The beleaguered agency transferred more than 400 agents assigned to drug investigations, but it did not end its drug war role. While major overhauls of the nation's intelligence infrastructure underway at press time make any numbers subject to sudden change, at last count, the FBI still had more than 2,000 agents assigned to the drug war, compared to 1,100 assigned to terrorism before September 11 and the 2,600 proposed by FBI Director Robert Mueller last week.

But that hasn't stopped drug-fightin' yet quick thinking law enforcement officials from beginning to holler that they'll need even more money to take up the slack. DEA director Asa Hutchinson was the first to hint at a new trip to the public trough. "Additional resources" may be necessary, he said in a prepared statement last week. "These are issues we will discuss to ensure the DEA has all the necessary tools to continue doing our job well," said Hutchinson, whose 4,600 special agents arrested 30,000 people last year with a budget of $1.8 billion.

This week, other law enforcers began to follow Hutchinson's lead, and at least one leading border newspaper echoed the call. Broward County, FL, Sheriff Ken Jenne told the Associated Press the loss of the FBI narcs will leave "a gaping hole" in his county's anti-drug effort.

"Now that the FBI is going to be focused on its core mission of terrorism, I'm wondering how our state and local agencies are going to deal with motorcycle gangs, narcotics trafficking and white-collar crime," added Washington State Patrol Chief Ronal Serpas.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D) told the Chicago Tribune that the FBI move would hurt the city. Drug dealers are terrorists, the mayor added.

Downstate in Peoria County, Sheriff Chuck Schofield told the AP the Bureau provided critical support for gang and drug enforcement. "I know they have big responsibilities, but I'd hate to have the relationship affected," he said. And across the state in Rockford, Police Chief Jeff Nielsen complained that the move would mean fewer arrests on big drug cases. "While you wish they didn't have to [pull agents], you understand," Nielsen said. "If a slightly lower arrest rate means they have a higher arrest rate in terrorism, that's good."

While law enforcement officials now are limiting their comments to the impact the FBI reshuffling will have on their ability to fight the drug menace, it won't take long until the other shoe drops. In an editorial this week, the El Paso Times fired the opening salvo. Citing the FBI move and arguing that drug smuggling groups will respond with "renewed and reinvigorated efforts to ply their trade," the Times made a clarion call for more anti-drug spending. "This puts additional pressure on other agencies, from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to the county Sheriff's Department," editorialized the Times. More of the pursuit of drug-related crime will fall to them. They must be given the resources and training necessary to do the job and keep the fight against drugs at a high level."

But with the federal and most state governments running in the red and cutting programs, calls for more, ever more drug war are bound to be resisted. Battle lines will be drawn around next year's budgets, as health care, public safety and education -- not to mention the "war on terrorism" -- compete with the drug war for taxpayer dollars.
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