Originally created 07/10/98

Drug agents could see cut in funding



Efforts to pound anti-drug messages into teens' heads are a good start to keep children from using, but local drug agents say they prefer to take a more active approach to fighting drugs: busting the dealers.

And area narcotics officers are finding that to be a tougher task every year with decreasing federal money. Meanwhile, President Clinton promised Thursday to spend $1 billion on a five-year anti-drug media blitz.

The Multi-County Drug Task Force -- which serves Richmond, Burke, Jefferson and Lincoln counties -- is in danger of taking more than a 12 percent cut in federal funds. The agency is already stretched to the limit in money and manpower, said Richmond County sheriff's Sgt. Robert Partain.

The money goes to all areas of drug enforcement such as undercover operations, searches and stings.

"We need to be able to spend money to buy drugs to infiltrate these operations," Sgt. Partain said.

Asking for more than $160,000 last year, the task force received $97,000 in funding. This year, Sgt. Partain has requested about $130,000 and has been told to expect an $85,000 budget.

Currently 22 officers from the four counties are assigned to the task force and the sergeant would like to have more officers who primarily handle undercover stings.

But the federal government is taking an educational approach to combating drugs and targets teens and their parents with ads designed to be more intense. On Thursday, the president launched the campaign in Atlanta.

The campaign includes spots on television, radio, the Internet and in newspapers that demonstrates the detrimental effects of drug use.

"I think (the ads) are an excellent idea, education is a good thing, but from the law enforcement end, we take a pro-active approach in targeting the dealers," Sgt. Partain said. "We go after the drug dealers while the ads target the users."

Drug use among teens in Richmond County has increased -- primarily in marijuana use, he said. So far this year, about 60 juveniles have been arrested on drug violations. In Richmond County schools, public safety officers handled 53 drug cases.

Drug arrests among teens, particularly school-aged teens, tends to go up in the summer months because school is recessed and more children are out on the streets. The task force is now zeroing in on hot spots where marijuana consumers look to buy small amounts of the weed and police will pose as drug dealers to bust them.