Okla. drug task force funding cuts could mean trouble

Lawton_Drug dealers and manufacturers in southwest Oklahoma may get a free pass if some drug task forces don't get the money they need to survive.  The drug task force is operated out of the district attorney's office, and District Attorney Bret Burns says a cut to funding could mean there will be 40 to 60 fewer drug investigators on the streets across Oklahoma.

The entire state received $4.1 Million to support drug task forces, and now that amount is down to $1.3 Million.  Drugs, guns, and a lot of cash is something the task forces have been taking off the street for years.  Burns says bigger cities such as Lawton, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa may have larger police forces with their own drug units, but smaller communities don't.

Burns says it takes money and investigators to continue to have a proactive approach in apprehending drug dealers.  "Rural Oklahoma and rural America rely on drug task forces to get the job done," he says.  They are able to nab drug dealers and their loot.  But, not without what could add up to months of investigation.  "Large investigations take several months.  You have to show the jury there is a pattern," he says.  "We go after the ones who are selling drugs."

Just a few weeks ago, the task force's work paid off when a six-month investigation led to the arrest of the owner of a meat packing plant authorities say was using his business as a front for drug trafficking.

Burns says last year his task force received just over $100,000 for salaries and equipment.  But, that doesn't necessarily cover the cost of purchasing drugs from dealers - an integral part of their investigations.  Burns says he's working to get the money reimbursed, and just returned from Washington to lobby congressional leaders.

The District Attorney says he doesn't agree with the government's priorities, though.  "At the same time Congress cut the task force by hundreds and millions of dollars, Congress allocated a billion dollars to Mexico to help them with drug trafficking," he says.  "So, at the same time we're taking American money to help Mexico, we're cutting task forces."

In just six months last year, the Stephens County Task Force filed 81 criminal investigations, and seized more than $250,000 in drugs.  Burns says if you would like to help or voice your concern about cuts to the drug task force's funding, contact your Congressman or state legislators.

7News Reporter Andrea Charles