Iowa law-enforcement and drug-prevention leaders today said the state can’t rest on its laurels after leading the nation in the fight against methamphetamine and pleaded for the restoration of funding they say is shrinking.

State Drug Policy Coordinator Marvin Van Haaften said federal funding’s being scaled back and the state’s lost the funding equivalent of the salaries of 21 drug officers over the last three years. Van Haaften says they’re asking Congressional to restore funding for the program that states use at a level of $900 million, where it was three years ago, saying it would prevent more law-enforcement layoffs.

Van Haaften, a former county sheriff himself, says national figures show what a good investment the drug cops are. Van Haaften says nationally, every narcotics officer makes 79 arrests a year, on average. “That’s 79 people that are moving, selling, using drugs on the streets of our communities,” he points out. He adds the narcs seize 54,000 guns a year in those arrests and investigations.

Van Haaften says Iowa’s tough new state law cut the number of meth labs more dramatically than other state in the nation. But he says Iowa drug-enforcement task forces still seized more than $43 million worth of illegal drugs last year. The drug czar says that was more than 11,000 pounds of illegal narcotics. “There’s three million people in Iowa,” he says, “And that’s enough to keep all three million people high for at least two days.”

Van Haaften says keeping a lid on drugs helped local communities in many other ways. He says for many years violent crime’s been declining, but it shot up recently and went up in Iowa five times more than the national average. “What you see is, as federal funds have declined, we see violent crime rising,” Van Haaften says.

Bill Vaughn, chief deputy with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, said his task force has opened 400 new cases in the last six months in a half-dozen central Iowa counties and notes there’s a lot of overhead expense. They struggle with operating costs like money to make drug buys, rent, utilities, supplies, equipment, and other things that help the drug agents “deliver the mission,” Vaughn says.

Ken Carter, director of the State Division of Narcotics Enforcement, says they’ve built on the concept of the drug task force as it proved worthwhile, and 24 are operating today across the state. “We don’t want to be reactive, we want to be pro-active,” Carter says. He says the work of drug task forces should continue and focus on drug-shipping gangs, so Iowa can remain a leader in drug enforcement.

The number of meth labs fell by 70-percent the year after the new state law locking up precursor substances used to make it. But Carter had a chilling observation for those who think Iowa’s won the war on illegal drugs. In 2005, he says agents seized twice as much cocaine as methamphetamine. “While for a long time our resources were devoted to meth labs, cocaine mever went away, marijuana went away, heroin never went away,” Carter says. In the last three years a federal initiative (the Byrne-Justice Assistance Grant) has been reduced by 54-percent and Congress is considering more reductions. Today’s presentation by local, state, county and federal officials in Iowa and other states was a call to keep the funding at full strength.

Related web sites:
Byrne Justice Assistance Grant