County sheriffs are bracing for stiff cuts in a federal funding program that has helped them battle drug cartels, reports the Associated Press. In December, Congress funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant by two-thirds, from $520 million to $170 million for fiscal 2008. Sheriff Gil Gilbertson of Josephine County, Or., said pending cuts in Byrne money and in federal payments made to counties to offset the loss of timber revenues have disbanded the Josephine Interagency Narcotics Team (JOINT). The White House argues that the program should end because crime is down and the money is needed elsewhere. That assessment is at odds with reports from many states of record hauls of drugs, especially methamphetamine and marijuana, and more activity by drug gangs.
“If we don’t get some funding back we’ll be in deep trouble when it comes to drug enforcement,” said Iowa drug-enforcement chief Gary Kendall. He said 85 percent of the state’s new cases last year were by county interagency drug teams that get Byrne grant money; funding cuts will reduce those agencies’ employees from 59 to 20. Money from the Byrne program can be used for other programs, including anti-gang efforts, some prosecution costs and child- and spousal-abuse prevention. Critics say the program has been tainted by abuse and corruption, sometimes racially based. “But where the rubber meets the road, it’s the local sheriff and police departments” who do the groundwork, said John Cary Bittick, sheriff of Monroe County, Ga., and the congressional liaison for the National Sheriffs’ Association. Supporters of the Byrne program hope to restore its budget in a supplemental appropriations bill this spring.