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Move afoot to give police more funding to battle methamphetamine drug dealers

The methamphetamine problem in Washington state has reached epidemic heights.

Every year millions of dollars are spent on clean-up efforts, but the community scars left behind by the drug are much deeper than just unsightly, fenced off homes where drug labs once operated. Families are torn apart, and children of methamphetamine makers and users are taken from their homes, putting an additional strain on court resources that are working to put drug manufacturers behind bars.

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell has called on President Bush to come to the aid of communities by doubling federal funding to fight methamphetamine abuse in his new budget, which is expected to be released Feb. 7.

Cantwell challenged Bush to include at least $100 million in federal support to be used at the local levels.

The funding request comes following a roundtable discussion with local elected and law enforcement officials from Washington and Oregon.

"The President's budget needs to make the safety of our local law enforcement officials a national priority," Cantwell said. "We need to show federal support for the officers on the frontlines of the meth epidemic, rather than shifting the burden onto local communities."

In Yakima County, the majority of the methamphetamine manufacturing cases are investigated by the Law Enforcement Against Drug (LEAD) task force.

According to Doug Hintze, the LEAD supervisor, it takes a lot of money to run a task force geared towards eradicating drugs and investigating possible methamphetamine manufacturing operations.

"When we (bust) a lab it takes a lot of man hours," said Hintze of the task force, which is made up of officers from multiple jurisdictions.

Recently, the task force restocked its equipment, including disposable cameras, gloves, boots and hazardous material suits.

He explained that each of the disposable gray suits costs about $65 each and in the heat of the summer a detective may wear two or three investigating one scene.

It also costs money for the tubes used to gather and store evidence at each scene.

Another area where funds are quickly eaten up is in training, said Hintze.

"We've been real fortunate. We have a couple new schools that are coming up at no cost to us," he said, explaining that the federal government is picking up the tab, including travel and equipment for the training.

Once arrests have been made there is also a significant cost to keep the drug makers in jail.

"We need the money," he said. "I don't think these labs are going to go away."

In 2003, LEAD investigated 12 labs and 10 were found and processed last year, said Hintze.

"We're pretty consistent," he said.

"I think we're having an excellent impact on the Valley," said Hintze. Last year LEAD arrested 157 people on various drug charges. The number of arrests was up 62 percent from the year before.

LEAD's impact has spread beyond the county borders. Detectives have traveled to Ellensburg and Goldendale to assist in investigations and to train law enforcement officers in how to analyze a methamphetamine lab.

Besides making funds available to detectives, Cantwell said it needs to be more difficult to obtain precursor drugs, which are used to make methamphetamine.

Last week, Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced the Combat Meth Act, which, if enacted, would regulate the sale of pseudoephedrine by keeping the products that contain the drug used to manufacture methamphetamine behind a pharmacy counter.

"Combating the growing methamphetamine epidemic in rural communities across the country requires an effective partnership between government, farmers, local citizens and law enforcement," said Kraig R. Naasz, president of the Fertilizer Institute. "As our industry continues to research theft deterrents, we welcome the introduction of this legislation to regulate pseudoephedrine. Since you can't make meth without pseudoephedrine, this legislation will keep anhydrous ammonia in the hands of America's farmers and out of the hands of those with criminal intent."

The bill proposes that consumers would be able to purchase up to six grams of the product at one time and nine grams over a 30-day period. The drug would be given to customers over the counter and customers would be required to show identification and sign for the medicine as part of the requirements for purchase.

Currently, Oklahoma is the only state to have passed legislation limiting the sale of products containing pseudoephedrine. Since then, the number of clandestine meth labs in that state has dropped 80 percent.

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