Meridian Star


April 27, 2014

Cutting counter-drug training facilities a mistake

MERIDIAN — We are all for streamlining federal programs and cutting wasteful programs to reduce the gluttonous national debt of $17.5 trillion.

    Slashing funding from a needed program that arms law enforcement officers with street-level training in counter-drugs measures for a paltry savings isn't the way to go about it, however.

    That is exactly what    Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has done by stripping funding for five counter-drug training academies from the 2015 defense budget.

    The Pentagon has directed Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, to close the nation's five National Guard Regional Counterdrug Training Academies (RCTA) next year.

    Among those slated for closure is the Regional Counterdrug Training Academy at NAS Meridian, which opened in 1992 as the first RCTA in the nation.

    The program was so successful that four more were opened: Midwest Counterdrug Training Center in Iowa, Multijurisdictional Counterdrug Task Force Training in Florida, Northeast Counterdrug Training Center in Pennsylvania and Western Regional Counterdrug Training Center in Washington.

    Since its inception, the program has provided free counter-drug training to more than 680,000 law enforcement officers across the country in 43 subject areas that include surveillance, undercover operations and drug distribution methods used by street gangs, to name a very few.

    At a hearing of the Armed Services Committee, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said the annual cost of the program is about $5 million.

    When asked by Wicker if he thought the value of the program warrants authorization by Congress, Grass replied, "Senator, yes I do."

    We agree.

    According to a report by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, the proposed 2015 DoD budget is $495.6 billion, down from this year's $496 million for a savings of $400 million.

     The $5 million cost for the RCTA programs is nominal in comparison to the total budget and the savings is not worth the loss that will be felt by local and state law enforcement agencies across the nation deprived of the training given that drugs and drug-related crimes are the biggest challenge most law enforcement agencies face.

    According to the FBI's "Crime in the United States 2012" report, of the estimated 12.2 million arrests in the U.S. in 2012, more people (1.5 million) were arrested for drug abuse violations than any other offense.

    Drug abuse violations accounted for 17.8 percent of all arrests during that time. That statistic is misleading, however, given that drugs are often the motive behind many other crimes, such as theft, burglary and assault.

    "Drugs are also related to crime through the effects they have on the user’s behavior and by generating violence and other illegal activity in connection with drug trafficking," according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie believes closing the RCTA programs would be a mistake.

        "If the bad guys continue to get smarter, and the good guys can't keep up with training, then this country will go down the drain much quicker than it already is," Sollie said. "This loss would be a huge blow to countless law enforcement agencies."

    "We have sent a number of officers there for training," Sollie said of the RCTA program at NAS Meridian. "We have used the facility a great deal and it has made our officers better at their jobs."

    We don't know what the economic impact will be if the RCTAs close. Figures from the Congressional Research Office were not available in time for this publication. We suspect it will be considerable.

    The RCTA at NAS Meridian has trained an estimated 100,000 law enforcement officers alone. Although the training is free, participants have to provide their own room and board.    

    Many of the training courses span several days, such as the "Hi Risk Warrant Planning & Execution" and the "Basic Narcotics Investigations," each of which lasts five days.

    "Clandestine Laboratory Investigation" spans four days, while the "Dismantling Trafficking Organizations" course is two days.

    Using a conservative estimate of an average three training days at the facility, with lodging and food for two days and two nights at $100 a day, would be $200 for each of the 100,000 officers who have trained at the facility. That is $20 million spent at local hotels, restaurants and retail shops in Meridian alone since the program began.

    We suspect the actual figure is much higher.

    That translates into additional money for employee salaries and added tax revenue for local city and county governments that can be spent on things like additional deputies and police officers to combat drug related crimes.

    Testimonials from actual law enforcement officers who attended the RCTA at NAS Meridian are posted on the facility's website.  

    One officer wrote of the "Basic Gang" course that the gang expert teaching the class  "brought to this training a level of knowledge and experience second to none …"

    Another wrote of the "Basic/Advanced Undercover Operations" class, "Wow is all I can say! This is the best training in the country when it comes to undercover operations. Whether you do undercover or are a career case agent this training will open your eyes to an entirely different way of doing your job."

    One attendee wrote, "I recently attended the Emergency Narcotics Operations Class and have to say in was by far the best school I have attended. The course instructors are the best in the business and I highly recommend this class to everyone who works in an investigative role."

    This is from working law enforcement professionals who likely aren't easily impressed.

    Some have argued that the program should not be under the DoD umbrella since counter-drug training technically is not a matter of national defense. We disagree.

    It is not called the War on Drugs without reason. It is a national problem that requires backing from the nation's resources.

    Besides, cutting funding to RCTA isn't necessary.

    You don't have to look hard to find allegations of wasteful spending in the trillions of dollars at the DoD on unneeded surplus supplies or low performing, high cost equipment. High ranking officials at the DoD have even complained cuts they recommended were blocked by members of Congress.

    There are real cuts that can be made without sacrificing counter-drug programs that help keep main street Americans safe.

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