Reuniting Drug Task Forces Won’t Be Easy
Four of the five recommendations proposed by the Countywide Alliance for Enforcement and Rehabilitation make a lot of sense.
The group, formed by County Executive George Borrello in January 2018, recently released a report that includes ideas to pursue in the coming year. Task force members recommend transferring the duties of the county Mental Hygiene Department to the county Department of Health and Human Services, investigating the possible addition of a crime lab in Chautauqua County and pursuing an agreement with the Pennsylvania Coroner’s Office in Erie County to share information about autopsies involving Chautauqua County residents who die in Erie, Pa., area hospitals. Those recommendations, along with the addition of a full-time narcotics investigator to the county District Attorney’s office, all make sense as long as they aren’t too costly.
The biggest nut to crack will be the task force’s recommendation to combine the Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force and the Jamestown Metro Drug Task Force. Reunification of the two drug task forces has been pushed by county Republicans in the last two elections for sheriff, so it wasn’t a surprise to see it included in the CAER recommendations for the coming year. The county will have to do more than wish for a unified drug task force to happen, however.
While the agencies remain professional on the street and back each other up regularly, the decade-long discussion over a partnership between the city and county for policing services hasn’t gone well despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on consultants and hundreds of hours of meetings on the matter. It’s hard to believe there aren’t bruised feelings and egos among all involved that would complicate a drug task force reunification. Even more importantly, it is less expensive for the city to have its own task force. One of the first things Chief Harry Snellings did when he was named Jamestown police chief was to look at the department’s finances and find ways to deliver more bang for city taxpayers’ buck. Leaving the Southern Tier Metro Drug Task Force was one such bang.
“I looked at things from a financial perspective,” Snellings told The Post-Journal in 2013. “The drug task force used to be funded, and then the funding ran out. So we started to look at our expenditures versus the caseload, so that was one part of it. The other was operational. We didn’t have direct control of our own personnel, which in turn we couldn’t control financial costs.”
That direct control over personnel meant more drug arrests within the city, something city residents expect to continue. Focusing investigations on Jamestown meant more drug arrests and a quicker turnaround from the time the department receives a tip until the time an arrest is made. City residents should expect that type of police activity to continue.
Logically, it makes sense for there to be only one drug task force for the entire county. Unless the underlying issues that led to the split in 2012 have been magically rectified now, however, we don’t see reunification taking place anytime soon.