DOJ GREED may hinder local war on drugs activities ?

Federal money grab will increase crime in our city

One week before Christmas, police chiefs across the country received a letter from the Justice Department entitled “Deferral of Department of Justice Equitable Sharing Payments.”

It explained that drug forfeiture funds which local agencies received for working with Drug Enforcement Agency would be “deferred” until further notice. The DOJ referred to this as a $1.2 billion “rescission” needed to balance their budget.

Here’s why this should concern you. The Farmington Hills Police Department has a police officer assigned to a DEA Group in Detroit. We also have a sergeant and police officer assigned to the South Oakland Narcotics Interdiction Consortium. The Oakland County Sheriff, and our neighbors in West Bloomfield and Novi, and many of our neighboring communities also have personnel assigned to SONIC and the DEA in Detroit.

These personnel do more than just drug enforcement. Drug problems, especially high-level dealers, are a regional problem. We would not have the resources to deal with this on our own. Our officers are deputized as federal agents so they have police authority outside our jurisdiction.

The federal agents we work with have equipment and police authority we would not otherwise have. We have access to data and intelligence information necessary to take down drug cartels. Local police agencies sharing resources with drug task forces means better results and reduced crime.

We frequently receive assistance from the Task Force investigating drug dealers in our community. The DEA has provided resources to us that have helped solve major cases, including the arrest of a homicide suspect in 2014. Our officers gain invaluable training and experience that they bring back to our department.

If this “money grab” is not reversed, the effectiveness of drug investigations would diminish drastically in the Detroit area, where local police officers make up 47 percent of the total Detroit DEA task force staffing. Local communities like ours will not be able to afford to dedicate full-time resources to these Federal Task Forces.

Drugs would flourish without the ability to seize drug dealer assets, including their money and property which is re-invested in the war against drugs.

The return of forfeiture funds to local communities through the Equitable Sharing Program is only fair since considerable local tax dollars fund the salaries of local officers participating in federal task forces.

In our community these funds have been used to purchase things like Argos, our drug sniffing dog, bringing educational programs like Drugs 101 to parents, equipment like bullet-proof vests and even specially equipped police vehicles. Our community has received hundreds of thousands of dollars of drug forfeiture funds in the last few years alone.

This does more than just offset the costs associated with devoting staff to Federal task forces. It helps make our community a safe place to live. It reduces drug crimes, and all of the associated crimes that accompany drug use.

Sadly, this change may be just politics. The administration has made the claim that our country incarcerates too many people for drug offenses, and they want to change that. Eliminating the funding for almost half of DEA Task Force staffing will certainly result in fewer arrests.

However, it will not in any way reduce the drug problem, only our ability to enforce the existing laws and make arrests. This will be a great relief for the drugs dealers, but not for our residents. We will likely see increases in other crime categories such as larceny from automobiles, petty theft, breaking and entering, home invasions, etc. These are all crimes frequently linked to drug use. Even the U.S. Attorney in Detroit is unhappy about this recent Justice Department money grab.

If you feel so inclined, please take a moment to write to your legislators, who have the ability to influence this poorly thought out decision. Let them know that the equitable sharing of Drug Forfeiture Funds must be restored to insure that local municipalities can continue to participate in Federal Task Forces. Write to:

Write to U.S. Sen. Gary Peters,; U.S. Rep. David Trott,; U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence,; and the U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC, 20530-0001.

Our goal is to reduce actual crime and remain a safe city, not to improve crime statistics by limiting funding and enforcement capabilities.

Richard Lerner is a Farmington Hills City Councilmember.

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