Ways to fund drug task force eyed

MARTINS FERRY – Belmont County Drug Task Force Commander and Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland has been working with Belmont County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter and several state representatives on securing money for the Drug Task Force.

“The Drug Task Force itself is made up of officers from every law enforcement agency in Belmont County. However, those individual agencies are still paying the salaries of the Drug Task Force officers when they are doing drug task force work and that is a burden on every town,” Berhalter said. “But everyone is contributing for this effort, but with more funding, we could help eliminate or alleviate the financial burden on the towns in Belmont County.”

Currently, the Belmont County Drug Task Force receives money from forfeitures, seizures and $6,500 from the Belmont County Commissioners. The officers who serve on the Drug Task Force are not compensated for the extra work they do.

“The drug task force officers are doing an outstanding job. The only thing that has always limited them is the funding and that has limited what they can do.

“Despite not a lack of funds they have done an amazing job,” Berhalter said. “The funding has come from forfeitures and seizures of those dealing and trafficking of drugs and it’s been a big help in their work.

“The funding from the commissioners is helpful but we are always trying to stay ahead and looking at what more they can do.

“Chief McFarland approached me about seeking other means of funding.”

One of the ways that has been discussed is adding on an additional $5 fee to court costs. The idea behind this is to have criminals pay for the Drug Task Force. According to Ohio Revised Code 5502.68 Drug Law Enforcement Fund: “Ninety-seven percent of three dollars and fifty cents out of each $10 court cost imposed pursuant to section 2949.094 of the Revised Code shall be credited to the fund. Money in the fund shall be used only in accordance with this section to award grants to countries, municipal corporations, townships, township police districts and joint police districts to defray the expenses that a drug task force organized in the county in which the municipal corporation, township or district is located, incurs in the performing its fuctions related to the enforcement of the state’s drug laws and other state laws related to illegal drug activity.”

The $5 fee would be added on to the $3.50 at Eastern, Northern and Western Division courts in Belmont County.

That would help fund the Belmont County Drug Task Force, rather then being distributed throughout the state.

The $3.50 will go into two different grants through the Office of Criminal Justice Services, the federal Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) and the state Drug Law Enforcement Fund. In Fiscal Year 2011, 24 task forces received the JAG grant totaling just under $2 million and 36 task forces received the Drug Law Enforcement Fund grant totaling $4.9 million.

“The problem that we have had in Belmont County is that the money has not come back into the county,” Berhalter said. “So in my discussions with Chief McFarland we came up with the idea of what if this statute was changed to increase court costs just in the amount of $3-5and have that money stay here in Belmont County to fund the Drug Task Force and what would we accomplish from this is much needed funding that would allow them to do even more while not having the hardworking people of Belmont County pay for this.”

The Drug Task Force has received several of these grants, but nothing of substantial amount, though they were helpful. For Fiscal Year 2012 the following are just a few of the task force in Ohio who received the Bryne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG):

  • Allen County Sheriff’s Office – West Central Ohio Crime Task Force for $66,400.00;
  • Butler County Sheriff’s Office – Undercover Regional Narcotics Task Force for $75,000.00;
  • Clermont County Sheriff’s Office – Clermont County Narcotics Unit for $65,217.15;
  • Cleveland Division of Police – Northern Ohio Law Enforcement Task Force for $132,000.00;
  • Defiance County Sheriff’s Office – Multi-Area Narcotics Unit for $39,600.00;
  • Fairfield – Hocking Major Crimes Unit – Fairfield Hocking Major Crimes Unit for $66,387.00.

The Belmont County Drug Tas Force is not receiving any of these grants as of right now.

Berhalter and McFarland have approached State Representative Jack Cera, State Representative Andy Thompson and State Sentor Lou Gentile, who have been very recepitive to the idea. Cera has had a revised statute drafted.

“I want to see if it will not only help the Drug Task Force but the local police department,” Cera said. “I would like to see if there is a possiblilty if the local department can benefit from this because if they do not have officers, we cannot have a Drug Task Force.”

According to Berhalter, in 2012, if the $5 addition was in place, the Drug Task Force would have received $24,000 just from the Western Division Court alone.

“We are very appreciative of the support and help that the state representatives have given us and are continuing to work to try to obtain this funding. The officers involved in the Drug Task Force have done an outstanding job and the results of what they have accomplished can currently be seen,” Berhalter said. “With additional funding they can accomplish even more. … The Drug Task Force attacks the problem of illegal drugs and their sales head on. What they are accomplishing is not just the removal of these drugs from our county but they are reducing all crime because drug trafficking and drug abuse are the underlying cause in so many other crimes.”

Van Dyne can be reached at kvandyne@timesleaderonline.com.