Task force crunch

GRAMNET struggles with lack of funding

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— A lack of funding and high officer turnover rates may force a change in direction for the Greater Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team.

On Thursday, GRAMNET Task Force Commander Garrett Wiggins expressed concern that new Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall may not fund a portion of the regional drug task force for 2007-08. Although such a lack of funding won't be the demise of GRAMNET, it certainly will affect what the task force is able to accomplish in Northwest Colorado.

"I've spoken to Gary at least three times about his intentions with GRAMNET, and he has yet to take a solid stance on whether he will support GRAMNET," Wiggins said.

GRAMNET is comprised of officers from the Moffat County and Routt County sheriff's offices and the Craig and Steamboat Springs police departments. Those four law enforcement agencies also provide most of GRAMNET's funding, particularly as federal grants supporting the program have been cut in recent years. Jackson County and the Hayden Police Department make minor contributions to GRAMNET's annual budget.

Wiggins said he has sent a letter asking Wall to make a decision by Feb. 15 so the agency can move forward with a March 1 federal grant deadline.

During Wall's campaign for sheriff, he promised to research GRAMNET's funding and purpose before deciding whether to cut funding.

"I'm not going to address any of these agencies like (Routt County) Search and Rescue or GRAMNET because I haven't had a chance to examine them," Wall said last week.

Wall said "getting a handle on the whole program" is his No. 1 priority.

"I want to be thorough," he said. "I don't want to jump to any conclusions or mislead anyone with what I am doing."

Revolving door

A decrease in federal funding for GRAMNET could create additional burdens for the local law enforcement agencies that provide the task force with funding. The Routt County and Moffat County sheriff's offices and the Craig and Steamboat Springs police departments have been asked to contribute an additional $27,500 to GRAMNET's 2007-08 budget because of the lack of federal funding. GRAMNET's total annual budget is about $450,000.

During the past four years, grant funds have been cut from $222,000 in 2004 to $95,000 in 2007. GRAMNET was formed in 1996.

At that rate, it is inevitable that GRAMNET's parent agencies one day will have to fully fund the organization, Wiggins said.

"We're shooting to be 100 percent self-sufficient," he said. "We've been pretty lucky in receiving the Justice Assistance Grant, (but) it's getting less and less every year."

While funding certainly is a challenge, so is a lack of officers to follow up on calls and investigate leads, he said.

"Working on a drug task force is different than working for any other law enforcement agency," he said. "It takes at least one or two years to get an officer trained, and by that time, there's a cap on how long they're with us or they're ready to leave."

As of this month, there are three officers manning GRAMNET, including an officer from the Moffat County Sheriff's Office, Craig Police Department and Wiggins, a Steamboat Springs police officer. The Routt County Sheriff's Office deputy has left GRAMNET to patrol the county because the Sheriff's Office is understaffed as well.

Wiggins anticipates another officer or two to turnover in the coming months.

"We're a small task force," he said. "We get so much information about drug activity that we just can't follow up on everything.

Without Routt County funding or an officer, GRAMNET may change the way it functions in the future, he said.

"We'll continue to operate, it'll just throw a hitch in things," he said. "We'll continue to do the best we can with what we've got."

Misconceptions

Craig Police Department Chief Walt Vanatta said he hopes Wall will stay involved in GRAMNET because of the mutual benefits the task force provides.

"In our discussions, we've encouraged (Wall) to do his research instead of just pulling out," Vanatta said. "There's great value in supporting such an organization. It takes a unified effort from all of us to combat crime in this valley."

Vanatta said being involved in GRAMNET has provided his department and community the resources needed to investigate and prosecute known drug dealers.

"On our own, none of us have the resources we need to work these kinds of cases. We just don't," he said.

He acknowledges that not everyone agrees about the importance of GRAMNET.

"I think people are largely critical because the organization is not viewed as productive," he said. "Well, that's directly related to the lack of funding and manpower issue."

Wiggins said people often think GRAMNET's sole mission is to bust 13-year-old kids smoking marijuana or skiers smoking pot on the gondola at the Steamboat Ski Area.

"We're not out hiding in bushes trying to catch people smoking pot," he said. "We're dedicated to investigating the source of drugs in our communities, not so much the abusers and users, but the people making a living selling drugs."

In 2006, GRAMNET officers arrested 74 people on felony distribution and possession charges. Forty-nine of those arrests were for distributing or possessing methamphetamine. The agency seized about $83,000 in estimated street value of drugs.

"Does GRAMNET do what we want it to? I believe so. Is it worth funding? Absolutely," Vanatta said. "Whatever happens, we'll keep it going."

Steamboat Springs Public Safety Director J.D. Hays echoed Vanatta's stance.

"Whatever happens, we'll keep GRAMNET going," he said. "It's too valuable not to."

Comments

Scott Wedel 7 years, 10 months ago

GRAMNET has three huge problems to overcome if it is to have a future. GRAMNET's big problems are the past, the present and accountability.

The problem with their past is way too many high profile ridiculous drug busts. Busting people smoking pot on the gondola? They did that. Busting a local medicinal marijuana patient? Did that. Did they apologize to Dan Nord? No. Busted people at a String Cheese Incident concert. People in Oak Creek remember the bust of a guy that collected comic books which he claimed they took his comic books. GRAMNET denied they took them only to return some of them much later.

A fundamental problem with GRAMNET can be seen in Wiggins' quote: "people often think GRAMNET's sole mission is to bust 13-year-old kids smoking marijuana or skiers smoking pot on the gondola at the Steamboat Ski Area." The problem is the phrase "sole mission" because he does not say that sort of stuff is not be part of GRAMNET. He acknowledged those types of busts are part of GRAMNET, but that GRAMNET is more than that.

The second huge problem with GRAMNET is their current level of irrelevance. They spent a budget of $450,000 to seize $83,000 in illegal drugs. That is probably a day or two worth of illegal drugs used in this area. Way too many of their arrests are users with enough drugs stashed to qualify under the law as having intent to distribute, but are well known to be users, not dealers.

The third huge problem with GRAMNET is the lack of accountability. Gary Wall won the election for Sheriff by promising to make changes.. But the voters do not get to vote out misguided GRAMNET leadership. Instead the person that lost the Sheriff's election was put in charge of GRAMNET and suggests more of the same policies. Seems to me that Gary Wall has to take drug enforcement back from GRAMNET so he can put someone in charge that will not do stupid drug busts.

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okie 7 years, 10 months ago

Drug Busts are not ridiculous and stupid. Drugs are illegal and the people that do them illegally are stupid and ridiculous.

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id04sp 7 years, 10 months ago

It's right on the mark to say that GRAMNET wasted $450,000 to bust meth heads holding $83,000 worth of drugs.

They need to be going after the coke traffickers who hold prominent positions in the three participating counties.

We're not allowed to write about who they are and what they do for a living, because the Pilot will remove those posts.

Maybe GRAMNET needs the same kind of overhaul that the RCSO is getting. Wall's removal of people he sees as being ineffective is the first necessary step in the process of replacing them with people who will do a better job.

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wizzer 7 years, 10 months ago

GRAMNET definitely has a public image problem. The problem is self-inflicted. Turnover is a result of officers being fed up with busting elderly cancer patients and teenage hippies. THey want to move on to an area with some action. The fascist culture of our law enforcement community is turning the public against them. That is the main reason for Wiggins losing the election. People want a change. And change they will get. Good or bad.

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Scott Wedel 7 years, 10 months ago

No drugs busts are stupid??? Busting medicinal marijuana patient Dan Nord was stupid. Not only did they lose the case in court, the court said they had to return what they seized The gondola drug busts were stupid. What sort of nut case defends those busts?

I only know one person that they busted. It was a meth "dealer" they busted. He had a drug problem, never sold any, but whose personal stash was enough to be legally considered to indicate intent to distribute.

That is why the $83,000 seized in 74 arrests is so pathetic. Other than the handful of actual dealer cases which they seized thousands of dollars of drugs, It means that the great majority of people they are arresting are personal possession cases seizing a few hundred dollars in drugs.

All the money spent to arrest a drug user, prosecute and possibly incarcerate is such a waste. It does not help the drug user solve personal problem or addictions. Sure some drug users resort to theft or become abusive, but so do some that abuse alcohol. Go after those people for those crimes. And if police officers investigating those crimes find illegal drugs and that is the easiest charge to bring then that's good police work. What is junk is focusing on drug usage and turning addictions into crimes.

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JQPUBLIC 7 years, 10 months ago

How stupid can your comments get Wedel, "What is junk is focusing on drug usage and turning addictions into crimes", duh, drug usage is a crime and to get addicted you were breaking the law to start with, so yeah, they are criminals. davinci got it right:people should take responsibility for their actions. I'm all for getting the users off the street as well as the dealers, if the users weren't buying, the dealers would be out of business. We would all be a lot safer and the taxpayers wouldn't be expected to "take care" of the addicts and their self-imposed "personal problems". I imagine there have been a lot of drug busts that scared a rec user out of using again, that alone would make it worth it, and that means the police helped turn some poor soul around before "his problems" caused him to become "our problem". Then you said, "The gondola drug busts were stupid", and why is that? Those idiots showed a blatant disregard for the law and for the other people on that mountain; the law abiding citizen should be safe from these hopped up druggies in public places. I think breaking the law in front of God and everybody was a lot more stupid than officers inforcing it. Medicinal marijuana, I still can't believe that with all the drugs available to physicians today, the only thing that helps is an illegal one and what is even harder to believe is that someone constantly on oxygen should be smoking anything at all!

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id04sp 7 years, 10 months ago

svbor,

The answer is: CONTEMPTUOUS!

The local judges have a history of ignoring federal law and daring you to do something about it. In this case, the federal judge did what was right.

According to the locals, the Full Faith and Credit Act only applies when you want to enforce a Colorado ruling in another state. Try it coming back the other way and they never heard of it.

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whyquestion 7 years, 10 months ago

hey!!! scott wedell do you think wall will drop gramnet like his minion "deficit"cargo did in oak creek???? didn't she nominate him at the dems. assembly???? how many young adullts in oak creek died after oak creek dropped gramnet???? why do succesful adm. keep programs untill they can introduce their own programs????? will mr wedell clean up the mess behind the curry hotel on nancy crawford blvd.???? are drug dealers having trouble making a living in routt county????? is that why certain people want gramnet dropped???? who are walls enablers?????? when will the sheriffs department be fully staffed?????

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whyquestion 7 years, 10 months ago

boondog i wonder why don't you???can commentators in this comment section provide factual answers to questions???

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