Anti-Drug Office Spurs Debate

Anti-Drug Office Spurs Debate
Posted by FoM on September 28, 2000 at 07:04:08 PT
By Diana Washington Valdez
Source: El Paso Times
Regional law-enforcement officials today will discuss a controversial plan by U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey to bring to El Paso an anti-drug office that was abolished earlier this year. Members of the West Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area executive committee will take up the issue at their meeting today, said El Paso County Chief Deputy Sheriff Jimmy Apodaca, the group's chairman. 
He and Sheriff Leo Samaniego, who's chairman of the Southwest Border area program executive committee, said McCaffrey's plan will do nothing to get drugs or drug dealers off the streets. "It has never done anything to help drug enforcement, and it adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to our work," Samaniego said. The West Texas drug-trafficking area, which includes federal, state and local law enforcement, along with the Southwest Border area, made up of the chairman and vice chairman of each regional area, had voted unanimously to do away with the Southwest Border area's headquarters in San Diego. McCaffrey announced the plan to move the San Diego office to El Paso during his visit last Thursday and Friday to El Paso and Juárez. "It's a done deal," said Kurt Schmid, director of the national drug-trafficking area program in Washington, D.C. "It was a policy decision by McCaffrey." Area programs coordinate efforts at drug interdiction. Samaniego said he plans to raise the issue at the next Southwest Border executive committee meeting in October. "This business of sending out a piece of paper and saying that this is how it's going to be ... , I don't think so," he said. Since McCaffrey's announcement, Samaniego vented frustration over what he considers the lack of results from anti-drug organizations, such as Operation Alliance, the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center and the Southwest area's San Diego office. "You can lump them all together, and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (an alleged drug lord) will still have a ball in Mexico," Samaniego said, adding that the organizations do nothing to advance drug investigations. Schmid said that while the Southwest office won't have a direct role in enforcement, it will serve to better coordinate the efforts of drug-enforcement agencies along the border. Schmid said that details of the structure of the new Southwest area headquarters will follow later, and that its funding was subject to the annual budget that Congress adopts for the new fiscal year. McCaffrey's National Drug Control Policy Office sent out an announcement about a plan "to reorganize Southwest Border HIDTA" last week, shortly before McCaffrey met with U.S. law-enforcement officials at a dinner. Samaniego and Apodaca, who were at the meeting, said none of the regional programs or the Southwest's executive committee received advance notice about the plan. "We heard about it at the dinner, and we haven't heard anything more about it since then," Apodaca said. "It came as a surprise to everyone." McCaffrey announced that "this plan will serve as a catalyst for greater coordination among federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies along the Southwest border. While drug-related crime rates ... have dropped, as they have across the nation, vast problems still exist." Apodaca said the West Texas regional programs already operate with "excellent cooperation and coordination." Samaniego said Schmid had attended previous meetings of the Southwest executive committee when members voted to dissolve the San Diego office. Members liked the idea of saving the $1.3 million to $1.5 million it cost to maintain the office, money that wasn't used to fight drug traffickers, they said. Although Schmid mentioned before that legal questions might be involved, he never told them about the plan to keep the headquarters intact and move it to El Paso, Samaniego and Apodaca said. In response, Schmid said, "there always was and will be just one HIDTA," which is why the San Diego office can't be abolished. Initially, McCaffrey's plan calls for transforming the five regional executive committees into state advisory boards, coming up with an annual coordination plan, and streamlining management and operations to be governed by one executive committee. Schmid said that participation in the program is voluntary and that he hopes members will continue to value its role. Samaniego said he fears that the Southwest Border office for El Paso could become "as worthless to drug-fighting efforts" as El Paso's Operation Alliance and the Drug Enforcement Administration's El Paso Intelligence Center. Regarding Operation Alliance, Samaniego said, "they have a group of well-paid people over there, and the biggest decision they have to make each day is where to have lunch." Operation Alliance, which is made up mostly of federal law-enforcement agency representatives, coordinates requests for military assistance for Joint Task Force Six. Its director, Michael McLees, would not comment. Armando Carrasco, spokesman for JTF-6 at Biggs Army Airfield, said Operation Alliance coordinates all requests from civilian law-enforcement agencies for JTF-6 support. Samaniego said the center's shortcoming is that it serves solely as a repository for information on drug busts or drug cases that have already taken place. "They don't provide any intelligence for ongoing investigations," he said. "It took an act of Congress to get access to the information, but it does us no good." Center spokesman Joe Long said "it would be inappropriate for me to comment on what Sheriff Samaniego said." Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at: dvaldez Source: El Paso Times (TX)Author: Diana Washington ValdezPublished: Thursday, September 28, 2000 Copyright: 2000 El Paso TimesContact: opinion elpasotimes.comAddress: P.O.Box 20, El Paso, Texas 79999Fax: (915) 546-6415Website: Related Articles: Cash-Strapped DA To Start Rejecting Fed. Drug Case Office Moving To El Paso District Attorneys Threaten To Quit
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on September 28, 2000 at 10:00:16 PT:
Federal Help Needed
Source: El Paso Times (TX)Published: Thursday, September 28, 2000 Copyright: 2000 El Paso TimesContact: opinion elpasotimes.comAddress: P.O.Box 20, El Paso, Texas 79999Fax: (915) 546-6415Website: The federal government again is forcing El Paso County's district attorney to take drastic measures to drive home the point that the feds need to pay for prosecuting federal drug cases. The issue was supposed to be resolved, at least partially, in June when District Attorney Jaime Esparza, and border prosecutors from four U.S. states first threatened to stop prosecuting federal drug cases. That ultimatum, along with the legislative help of federal lawmakers from Texas, had its desired effect of catching federal officials' attention -- and netting a pledge of $12 million. But three months later, El Paso County still waits for the paltry $1.5 million it is supposed to receive as its share of the allocation to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The federal government must provide the promised appropriation as soon as possible. It costs El Paso taxpayers about $8 million a year to prosecute about 500 federal drug cases handled by county prosecutors. These are cases that originate at the international ports of entry and checkpoints, Esparza explained. Clearly, it's the federal government's responsibility to underwrite these cases. The $12 million promised appropriation isn't enough to cover costs for prosecuting federal cases in the four states, and especially for the Texas border communities. But it is, at least, a start. The benefit for El Paso is that it would be $1.5 million less than would have to be extracted from the county budget (and from local taxpayers). Esparza's and the other border prosecutors' threats may cause concern, especially from a public- safety standpoint. However, Daryl Fields, a spokesman for Bill Blagg, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, said federal drug cases will be prosecuted even if the El Paso district attorney's office doesn't do it. "No one is going to get a free walk," he said. "We'll do what we have to do." The federal government's funding neglect of border communities' federal law-enforcement and prosecution costs is reprehensible. It's a shame that it takes dramatic threats from prosecutors to grab federal officials' attention but, apparently, that's where we're at. Note: Funding for prosecuting drug cases must be increased.
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