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Archive for Tuesday, February 19, 2002

s meth concerns

February 19, 2002

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— Like most law enforcement officers, Salina Police Chief James Hill is frustrated in his fight against those making and selling methamphetamine.

But on Monday, Hill could voice his feelings to Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson and U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran.

"We're overwhelmed and overworked by drugs. There is no respite in sight for us on the local level," Hill said. "We're falling further and further behind. It's very frustrating."

He was among about 100 people, mainly police officials, at a meeting at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center where the 1st District congressman was host.

Moran said he and Hutchinson wanted to gather ideas from the officers about fighting drugs. Hill and others said more federal money to assist local departments would top the wish list.

"We haven't turned a corner as yet in Kansas," Hutchinson said. "We're not quite there in Kansas yet, but we can achieve success."

Moran said drug abuse isn't a problem just in major cities, but also is found in rural areas of Kansas.

"We need to make sure the policy-makers in Washington know it's a rural problem," Moran said. "The tremendous growth in manufacturing meth now threatens our way of life in Kansas."

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation said last week that a record 846 meth labs were seized in the state last year, half of them operational. There were 702 labs seized in 2000.

Moran said Kansas ranked fourth nationally in the number of meth labs seized.

Shawnee County topped the list with 90 seized labs, followed by Cowley County with 67 and Saline County, which includes Salina, with 62.

But that's just a small portion of the total meth picture.

Between 60 and 80 percent of all meth in Kansas comes from Mexico or California, said KBI Director Larry Welch.

He said seizing meth labs takes time away from investigating drugs coming into the state.

"We have to address what confronts us now," Welch said.

Law enforcement officers have voiced concern that some of the federal money to fight drugs will be cut because of the economy.

"As dire as our straits are on the meth front, we'd be in terrible shape without federal funds," Welch said.

Hill said about 10 percent of his 78 officers work full time to battle drugs. He noted his town is at the crossroads of two major routes  east-west Interstate 70 and north-south I-135.

"I could use triple the manpower. We're just hitting no more than the top of the iceberg," Hill told reporters after the meeting.

"To say it's an epidemic doesn't really describe it. Find me some money," Hill said.

Moran said the need for more federal money is a message he will carry back to the nation's capital.

"Fighting the fight in Washington can make a difference," he said.

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