State cut adds to county?s meth challenge

Budget reductions announced in July by the Kan?sas Department of Health and Environment has added to the challenge of state and county law enforcement to move against methamphetamine labs.

Sheriff Rob Craft said efforts by his department to stop meth production and trafficking in Marion County continue, but with some adjustments.

KDHE announced July 17 it would be cutting funding for its Clandestine Drug Lab Response Program, which was established in 1999 to clean up the hazardous chemicals associated with the manufacture of meth.

Now, if the sheriff?s office moves against a meth lab in the county, it will have to call the regional Drug Enforcement Administration representative, who then contacts the agency?s contractor for hazardous materials clean-up.

The primary inconvenience is that an officer from the law-enforcement agency would be required to remain at the scene until the clean-up crew arrives.

?In some instances, our agents and local law enforcement officers may wait for a clean-up crew for four to eight hours,? said Tony Weingartner, assistant director of the KBI?s Investigations Program.

Sheriff Craft said his office hasn?t raided a meth lab since the funding has been cut, although investigations are under way.

?So far we haven?t had one, but we know they?re out there,? he said. ?We?re trying to analyze what (the budget cut) really is going to do to us.?

Craft said the cut has ?changed some of our direction? in the way his office approaches its investigations.

?Some of the equipment and training that we were looking for to help our work in this area is not available to us right now,? he said.

?We?re just regrouping and seeing how we can proceed,? he added. ?It will change the way we do things, and we may have to prioritize a little more with resources and make some adjustments there.?

Craft said he is aware of efforts to address the funding issue.

The KBI reported it has asked for assistance from the U.S. DEA to establish an alternate disposal program. A meeting with the DEA, KBI, KDHE and other representatives from Kansas law enforcement agencies is planned for Sept. 3 in Wichita.

Last year, KDHE responded to about 170 illegal drug labs at the request of law enforcement.

?It is unfortunate, but unavoidable, that keeping a balanced state budget made the elimination of this program necessary,? KDHE Secretary Roderick L. Bremby said.

?The Clandestine Drug Lab Response Program not only helped to ensure healthy and clean neighborhoods and communities, but was an opportunity for KDHE to build partnerships with law enforcement.?

Craft emphasized the cutback should not embolden meth-lab operators in the county.

?I don?t want to make it sound like we don?t have any way to combat it,? he said ?We still have plenty of ways to do it, but it just kind of changes our approach, knowing that manpower and equipment are somewhat limited.

?We?ll work with what we?ve got, whatever the case is, and proceed from there.?

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