By Michelle Felter
BENTON -- Budgetary cuts and other issues will lead to the discontinuation of a Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force vehicle in Scott County. But, it won't bring about any real problems, according to the sheriff and county commissioners.
During Thursday's regular commission meeting, a letter dated July 3 from Kevin Glaser, supervisor of the SEMO DTF, was discussed. The Scott County Sheriff's Department has been provided a vehicle for undercover drug operations for the past two years.
"They're wanting that vehicle back due to budgetary cuts, mainly," said Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger.
Sheriff Rick Walter, who sits on the SEMO DTF board, said the move is common. "We only have so many and we just move these vehicles around," he said. "This is not a bad thing."
At a recent meeting he attended, Walter said he sat next to a sheriff who has never had one of the vehicles. "I felt kind of guilty about having this one as long as we did," said Walter.
Through a donation, the department recently acquired a new vehicle, which will be used for those investigations, Walter informed commissioners. "So it's not too big of a deal," he said.
In his letter, Glaser said Congress eliminated funding for all drug task forces for the 2009 grant year on June 23. "While this will not shut our operation down, we will be forced to make some drastic cuts in our operational expenses and utilize the equipment and resources we have in the most effective manner," he wrote. "By bringing this vehicle back into our unit, it will be utilized by either the task force or any of the other law enforcement agencies that cooperate and participate in narcotics investigations within the task force."
Walter said that a lot of task forces are now being shut down, "because they don't have the money to operate."
In his letter, Glaser said "by providing a vehicle to the sheriff's department it was my hopes and intentions that it would bolster a working relationship and a cooperative effort towards a common goal of effective narcotics enforcement. Unfortunately, this cooperative effort has not materialized."
Walter told commissioners that his staff is unable to be as involved as he would like for them to be when it come to the DTF because of their commitment to other investigations. But, the department does still contribute, he said.
In his letter, Glaser indicated he wants that partnership to continue, too. "We will also, despite the reduction of the federal grants, continue to conduct drug investigations in Scott County and will willingly assist the sheriff's department in any way we can, if requested," he wrote.
"I feel like this letter is kind of a courtesy from Kevin to us," commented Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn. He pointed out Glaser's letter shows concern it may hurt the county.
But, it may save the county some money, as it pays for the gas and insurance, as well as minor maintenance repairs, noted Burger. The county also donates $5,000 each year to the SEMO DTF.
Walter also noted the car is easily identified in the county's "drug world" by now and may not be that effective. "It doesn't allow covert movement around Scott County," he said.
In other news from Thursday's meeting:
Walter told commissioners the jail has been approved to house Immigration and Naturalization Services inmates beginning in September. He received the final OK in an e-mail sent July 2 from a project he's been working on since 2005.
"We are negotiating on prices," said Walter. "But we actually make money on that."
He said that the extra numbers may create some overflow at the jail -- but he's worked out agreements with the Chaffee and Scott City jails to house the overflow there. Reimbursements from the state are given for that, he added.
The jail has 120 beds. Ziegenhorn asked if, the program is profitable for the county, there is any way more beds could be added. Walter said that is a possibility and with some extra room at the jail, for instance downstairs, temporary cells can be added for a minimal cost.
"After we see what happens, it is something we ought to look at," said Ziegenhorn.
Walter said there is "pretty quick turnaround" on the inmates. "They're going to court all the time, they won't be here very long," he said. An inmate will typically be housed there for two weeks, he said.
* Commissioners discussed a letter sent to the sheriff from George E. Ridens, captain of Troop E with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
"It was complementing Sheriff Walter," said Burger. The letter referred to the May robbery and bomb threat at a Scott City pharmacy, where the sheriff's department and patrol worked jointly.
Walter had also sent a letter to the patrol commending the actions of the patrol corporals. "Whenever I got there and suggested what I did, they didn't hesitate," said Walter. "They climbed right on board."
* Officials from USDA Rural Development met with commissioners to discuss the $9,000 grant for the purchase of two cars for the sheriffs department.
"It's just a matter now of sending in receipts and invoices and checks paid," said Burger.
Officials told the commission the grants will be available each year. "We need to make sure to do it every year," he said. "That's something that will be a big benefit to us."
Walter agreed: "everything helps."