By KEVIN WISER
Express Staff Writer
Citizens and communities across America are trying to get even, or at
least make a difference in the war on drugs and the devastating toll it takes.
In an attempt to exact a bit of poetic justice, there is a growing
movement that supports the use of drug dealers ill-gotten gains to fund drug
prevention and treatment programs in an effort to repair the damage caused by drugs.
The source of the funding is forfeiture funds, which come from money
seized in drug raids.
Prior to 1994, the money went exclusively to the enhancement of police
and sheriff departments under federal drug forfeiture laws. However, as a result of
changes in federal drug forfeiture guidelines, law enforcement agencies can share 15
percent of the proceeds reaped from drug seizures with drug prevention and treatment
programs outside their department.
According to Anthony Hall, an assistant U.S attorney in Boise, there
are three cases pending in Blaine County that will result in $1 million to be shared
between the Blaine County Sheriffs Department and the Ketchum Police Department.
Last November, the two Blaine County law enforcement agencies received
$75,000 each from drug seizures involving the U.S. vs. Whelan, U.S. vs. Trabert and U.S.
vs. Miller cases, which took place in the county. Hall said the agencies should receive
another $200,000 each before the end of the year.
Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling said local law enforcement agencies
played a significant role in those cases and that it was a real credit to the Ketchum and
Blaine County departments that these funds have been secured for the county.
"The drug forfeiture concept," Hall said, "is that they
(the Blaine County Sheriffs Office and the Ketchum Police Department) should be able
to recoup their costs in the operation in relation to the amount seized."
However, Hall said that depending on ongoing cases, the county may
never get such a large windfall of money from drug seizures again.
The question now is how the drug forfeiture money will be spent, and
what percentage will be directed toward repairing the damage the community has suffered as
a result of illegal drugs.
Considering Blaine County has a significant substance abuse problem,
combined with the fact that local prevention and treatment programs are in the midst of a
funding crisis, opinion varies as to how much law enforcement agencies should share with
programs such as Project Respect, Blaine County Youth Partnership and DARE/PAL.
Of the $150,000 already split by the two Blaine County law enforcement
agencies, Ketchum Police Chief Cal Nevland said his department put slightly more than 15
percent into drug and crime prevention presentations in schools. Femling said the
sheriffs office put more than 50 percent into the DARE/PAL program, which is run by
Blaine County Commissioner Dennis Wright said, "Since all
forfeiture fund monies are generated from drug seizures, then a small percentage should go
to law enforcement and a larger percentage should go to drug education, prevention,
treatment and intervention programs."
Wright suggested holding public hearings to gather public input on how
forfeiture funds should be spent and to consider what programs are in need of funding and
how much money should be spent on each.
"This would create a process where the community could help decide
how to spend forfeiture funds instead of just politicians and law enforcement," he
Femling said his department spends forfeiture funds based on a
three-pronged approach with the first priority being drug prevention for youth (DARE/PAL);
the second, enforcement (Drug Task Force operations); and third, law enforcement
enhancement (training and equipment).
Femling said it may be possible to also help fund youth programs other
than DARE/PAL when more forfeiture funds are released to his department.
"I see two good treatment and intervention programs out there
dealing with juvenile substance abuse, Project Respect and the Blaine County Youth
Partnership program," Femling said. "We have to work together as a community and
support these programs and turn our focus to the youth if we hope to make a