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For the week of Sept. 1, 1999 through Sept. 7, 1999

Spending drug forfeiture funds

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 Sheriff’s 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 Sheriff’s 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 sheriff’s office put more than 50 percent into the DARE/PAL program, which is run by his office.

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 said.

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 difference."


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