Steamboat Springs Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall should commit to helping fund the Greater Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team for the 2007-08 year.
But we understand and support Wall's desire to review the drug task force before committing funds beyond that timeframe. Wall should commit Routt County's share of funds and personnel this year with the clear message that future support will depend on a thorough analysis of the program's effectiveness.
GRAMNET is made up 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 task force have been cut. Jackson County and the Hayden Police Department make minor contributions to GRAMNET's annual budget.
During Wall's campaign for sheriff, he promised to research GRAMNET's funding before deciding whether to cut it. "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.
"I want to be thorough," he said. "I don't want to jump to any conclusions or mislead anyone with what I am doing."
That's a reasonable approach; however, GRAMNET needs a decision by Feb. 15 so it can determine its eligibility for federal funding. That's not enough time for Wall to conduct the analysis he needs. It would be wrong to pull the plug on Routt County's support at this late date. Besides, doing so would look like petty politics given that Wall's opponent in the sheriff's race, Garrett Wiggins, is now the director of GRAMNET.
Special local drug task forces such as GRAMNET are tools that were born during the infancy of the nation's 20-plus-year war on drugs. It's hard to say that war has been successful. Drugs are as big a scourge on society today as they were in the 1980s. Drugs destroy families and are the lifeline of violent gangs. Drugs are linked to the vast majority of criminals in jail. The drugs - cocaine, crack, heroin, methamphetamine - may change, but the destruction remains the same.
Because of that destruction, we support effective efforts to reduce the availability, distribution, use and abuse of illegal drugs.
The question is, how effective is GRAMNET?
Last year, 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. The cost to operate the agency is about $450,000 annually, and the local agencies' responsibility for that cost goes up each year as federal contributions go down.
How many of those arrests would have been made without GRAMNET? How much in drugs would have been seized? Has GRAMNET reduced serious drug use, and its related violent crime, in Northwest Colorado? Without GRAMNET, what are the alternative methods of addressing our drug issues?
These are questions we think Wall and Wiggins would be wise to spend the next 12 months answering.