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Drug task forces falling apart

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HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) -

The letters were sent out in August and since then, the state's dozen or so drug task forces have been scrambling to find a way to stay in action.

"It's a difficult situation for everybody," said Department of Public Safety spokesman, Warren Strain,

Those agencies are made up of city, county and state levels all working together, exchanging a lot of information to stop drugs from being distributed, sold and used across the state. Those networks are now trying not to fall apart, thanks to funding being cut off.

"We just have to try and use the resources that are available," said Strain.

Strain says the cuts shouldn't have been a surprise. The original federal funding grant was only suppose to last for two years. However, it lasted for seven. Now, Strain says thanks to recent sequestration, time is up and so is most of the money.

"Certainly it's a concern. Anytime any crime fighting component is eliminated," said Strain.

Those grants coming into DPS were cut by more than half, going from $5 million to $1.9 million. Most of that money will be used in other areas such as drug courts. For more rural areas, like Holmes County, already stretched thin financially, loosing the money just may mean loosing it's involvement in the task force.

"It's going to be a struggle to keep the task force afloat. It's almost impossible," said Holmes County Sheriff Willie March.

Some agencies, like the Wayne County Sheriff's Department have already pulled out of the task force completely because they can't afford to be a part of it. That creates a big problem, which is front and center for Governor Phil Bryant who is pushing for increased public safety across the state.

"The drug dealers have a very good network out there. They understand where there's enforcement and where there's not. When they see an opening in Mississippi, it's going to bring them here," said Bryant.

A lot of agencies are now looking to the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics to pick up the slack, but MBN director Marshall Fisher says his department's budget can only do so much.

"Do I think we're going to be able to fill in all those gaps, no, I don't. That's an honest answer," said Fisher.

While fisher says he'll do all he can, he shares the same concern as Governor Bryant.

"This kind of word makes it into the drug distribution community. It'll be interpreted as we got free range to do what we want to now in city X, Y or Z over here," said FIsher.

With public safety being Bryant's focus for the upcoming legislative session, he says priorities need to be evaluated and hopes lawmakers can come up with a solution.

"The lack of enforcement will put people in danger. If I had to choose, I would put enforcement first then drug courts and treatment second," said Bryant.

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