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Loss of Grant Funding Heralds End of Narcotics Task Force

taskforceendsLassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon presented grim news to the County Board of Supervisors at their Tuesday meeting – the loss of grant funding for the Lassen County Narcotics Task Force necessitating the closure of the multi-agency program.

“Lassen County has been receiving the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant since the 1980’s,” said Growdon in his report to the board. “This grant is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and dispersed by the State of California. California has to develop a statewide strategy based on priorities established by the U.S. D.O.J.”

The statewide strategy that has been in place since the 1980’s has been multi-jurisdictional drug enforcement task forces. Over the past year the state has been in the process of developing a new strategy for these funds. This new strategy will have a direct impact on the operations of the Lassen County Narcotics Task Force.

The task force has historically been a partnership of multiple agencies and according to Growdon the Sheriff’s Office has always had at least one person assigned as the supervisor of the unit.

From around 2005 until 2012 the Sheriff’s Office had two people assigned to the unit. One of these two positions was eliminated with the adoption of the 2012-2013 County Budget due to reduced revenues in this program and the state funded Cal-MMET program.

“The City of Susanville has always had a detective assigned to the unit,” explained Growdon. “The Probation Department has had a person assigned part time in the past but pulled out of the program a couple of years ago. The Susanville Office of the California Highway Patrol dedicated a full time position to the unit until four years ago when they also pulled out. The District Attorney’s Office assigns a Deputy District Attorney on a part time basis to prosecute task force generated cases.”

“The task force at one time operated out of their own facility and was staffed by four full time people and two part-time people. As the funding levels have decreased the program has continued to shrink. Task force personnel moved into the Sheriff’s Office, and the amount of funding available to participating agencies gradually decreased. The grant was at an all-time low of $85,147 in 2013/2014.”

The Lassen Narcotics Task Force released this photo of drugs and paraphernalia taken in last week's drug arrests.
The Lassen County Narcotics Task Force released this photo of drugs and paraphernalia taken in a January 2012 raid.

The task force has been operating at a very limited level over the past few years. The Sheriff’s Office and Police Department have each had one person assigned to the unit. Their ability to conduct extensive investigations has been limited by the low staffing levels in both agencies, and the need to assign them to investigations other than those that are drug related.

Growdon told the supervisors that effective October 1st, 2014 the funding source for our task force will no longer be available for this program and the task force will no longer exist in its current form. The Sheriff’s Office and Police Department will continue to support each other, but each agency is going to be responsible for drug investigations in their respective jurisdictions.

“We see the impact of drug use/abuse in our community every day,” said Growdon. “We see how it tears families apart, destroys lives, and leads to more serious criminal behavior. We remain committed to a comprehensive approach that includes enforcement, treatment, prevention and education. I will be working with local partners to look at various options in all of these areas.”

Drugs, firearms and cash seized by the Narcotics Task Force from a Cornell street address in September of 2012.
Drugs, firearms and cash seized by the Narcotics Task Force from a Cornell street address in September of 2012.

The Sheriff said that he will also investigate the possibility of a ‘major crimes’ task force. Most serious or violent crimes are related to drugs in some way, and Growdon believes the best enforcement option moving forward may be a unit that investigates all major crimes in Lassen County.

The new Byrne/JAG strategy and request for proposal will be voted on September 11th. The strategy will likely make funds available to counties on a competitive basis with a broad range of possible programs. Programs may include Prevention and Education Program, Law Enforcement Programs, and programs for the courts, prosecution, defense, and indigent defense. Lassen County stakeholders will have to identify one or more programs they would like to pursue, develop a program that will benefit our communities, and build a competitive proposal.

Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso Publisher/Editor
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