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Narcotics team operations continue despite cuts in funding, manpower
By Amy Moss Strong, Staff Writer
BANDON - Despite ongoing funding challenges, the South Coast Interagency Narcotics Team has been busy pursuing drug dealers and manufacturers, according to SCINT Steering Committee Chairman Steve Scibelli.
Scibelli updated committee members at the group's quarterly meeting Wednesday afternoon at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
From October to December 2003, SCINT discovered and dismantled six methamphetamine labs and meth dumps, Scibelli told those present, who included Coos County Sheriff Andy Jackson, Curry County Sheriff Mark Metcalf, Coos County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Bill Gillock, Reedsport Police Chief Bob Gross, Scott LaFranci, of the Coquille Indian Tribe; Lt. Steve Smartt, of the Oregon State Police; Greg Stevens, publisher of The World Newspaper; SCINT Sgt. Dan Looney; SCINT administrative assistant Julie Simpson; Brookings Police Chief Chris Wallace; Bandon Police Chief Bob McBride; and Dick Leshley, of Coos Bay Yellow Cab.
SCINT also made 38 drug-related arrests in the October to December 2003 period, referred 12 children to Child Protective Services, executed 22 search warrants and discovered and dismantled seven marijuana grows, Scibelli said.
Drugs seized for that same period by SCINT detectives included 2,068 grams of marijuana, 962 grams of methamphetamine, 680 grams of crystal methamphetamine, 27 grams of psilocybin mushrooms and 20 grams of morphine sulfate. Street value of the drugs totaled $233,794. Cash and guns also were seized.
SCINT also gave three narcotics education presentations and staff attended narcotic enforcement training and Drug Enforcement Administration narcotics school.
Scibelli said one of the agency's goals for the coming year is to let the public know of SCINT's accomplishments.
"We want to let the public know what SCINT's doing week to week and get the word out that SCINT's doing good work," Scibelli said.
Looney's recent recognition by the Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association as Oregon Narcotics Officer of the Year also attests to that fact, Scibelli added.
SCINT has been plagued with money woes since funding was cut to the agency and a proposal narrowly failed at the polls to create a Coos County SCINT taxing district that would have levied 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for SCINT's operations.
Since then, SCINT has operated with a skeleton crew comprising one coordinator, an administrative assistant and one detective working the streets.
The agency was absorbed into the Coos County Sheriff's Office in February 2003, but the two agency's budgets are separate. SCINT decisions now are made by a seven-member executive board The shifting of SCINT under Coos County allowed the agency to garner the necessary funds to match a federal Byrne grant that has funded the team for the past several years. A federal appropriation also helped fund the agency last year.
SCINT's current staffing runs on a budget of $19,000 a month, which includes salaries for Simpson, Looney, the agency's detective and office expenses, according to Simpson.
Developing short- and long-term funding is still the committee's main goal, Scibelli said. Last year, the idea of going back to voters for funding was discussed, but the committee has since decided against the idea. Instead, solicitation of private funds, grant research and supporting a change in criminal forfeiture rules are all goals being implemented.
"We looked at the state Oregon is in and we determined that a (voter-approved levy) is not going to happen," he said. "We'll look at this again after the next election."
In 2000, Oregon voters passed a measure that prevented police agencies from seizing and selling property without gaining a conviction first. It also directed most of the funds gathered from property forfeitures to be used for drug rehabilitation programs. Since the measure was passed, however, seizures have nearly stopped.
Gross said the problem with drug forfeiture money is the public has a misconception that property is seized at random, then sold to profit various law enforcement agencies.
"We need to re-educate the public that there's a due process for seizing property obtained through drug money," Gross said. "People's property isn't seized willy-nilly."
Staffing SCINT with additional officers also is an ongoing goal, Scibelli said.
"But staffing costs money and even though we know we need to put more people on the narcotics team, we're all strapped to do that," he said. "When push comes to shove, we do send people out, but it's short term; we can't do it for the long term."
The SCINT Steering Committee's next meeting will be held at Bandon Dunes on Wednesday, April 7 at 1:30 p.m.