Larsen Brings Local Concerns to Congress, Fights to Fund Law Enforcement and Keep Drugs Out of Our Communities</A

Feb 28, 2008

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-02) testified before the House Budget Committee today on the importance of supporting drug courts and treatment providers and giving law enforcement the resources they need to continue their work fighting drug trafficking and criminal activity.

Larsen, who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus to Fight and Control Methamphetamine, has worked to support drug interdiction efforts as well as prevention and treatment initiatives. During the February district work period, Larsen met with 2nd District law enforcement officers, treatment providers and drug court managers to learn about their successes -- as well as the challenges they face due to cuts in federal funding.

“A reduction in federal funding to local law enforcement is a victory for drug trafficking organizations,” said Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force Commander Patrick Slack. Slack and members of his Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force staff met with Larsen in Everett, Washington on February 20.

“If federal funding is reduced, criminal activity will increase,” Slack continued. “The reduction of federal funding will cause an increase in danger to our children, communities and neighborhoods across this nation.”

Funding for Byrne-JAG grants, which help support regional drug task forces and other law enforcement needs, was cut by two thirds in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2008.  This reduction could force many regional drug task forces across the country to close their doors.  If funding for Byrne-JAG grants is not restored this year, the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force is in danger of having to cut as many as six positions from their staff.

“Full funding for the Byrne Grants is critical to the continued success of local narcotics task forces in dealing with the ongoing illegal drug sales across our country,” said Everett Chief of Police James Scharf, who met with Larsen this week in Washington, D.C.

“Any reductions in funding will only serve to allow for increases of sales in meth, Oxycontin, cocaine, marijuana and heroin which feed the gang problems and violence that all of our communities are facing,” Scharf concluded.

The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants (Byrne-JAG) program, the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program and the Drug Court Program have all been zeroed out in the President’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2009.

After visiting the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force on February 20, Larsen met with Linda Grant, Executive Director of Evergreen Manor, and several Evergreen Manor clients in recovery from drug addiction. Evergreen Manor is one of two treatment centers that partner with Snohomish County’s highly successful drug court program.

Larsen brought local concerns to the attention of the House Budget Committee today, and urged a strong and consistent federal investment in support for local initiatives.

“Our commitment to stopping drug trafficking and abuse must begin with strong federal support for local law enforcement,” said Larsen. “But it doesn’t end there.  Federal support for treatment and education efforts is just as critical.” 

“At Evergreen Manor, I met a man in recovery from addiction who made a comment that stuck with me.  His goal, he said, was not only to stay clean, but to get his life back.  Federal support for drug courts and treatment programs helps save lives.”

The full text of Larsen’s testimony to the House Budget Committee, as prepared for delivery, follows:

“Thank you, Chairman Spratt, Ranking Member Ryan, and Members of the Committee.  I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you today about the federal programs that make a critical difference in the fight against drug abuse.

“As co-chair of the Congressional Caucus to Fight and Control Methamphetamine, I have seen first-hand the devastating impact of meth and other illegal drugs on our communities.  Illegal drugs aren’t just a problem for law enforcement – but for our families, schools and businesses. In the past several years, we have made significant progress in closing down “homegrown” labs, but rates of methamphetamine use remain as high as ever.

“Meanwhile, law enforcement officers and treatment providers are reporting a sharp increase in the abuse of Oxycodone and other prescription drugs.  The increasing incidence of diversion and abuse of these drugs is a disturbing trend that presents a new set of challenges for the men and women that have devoted their lives to ridding our communities of the problems of drug abuse.

“Research has increasingly shown that drug addiction is not merely a matter of habit for those addicted but is, in fact, a disease.  It is our responsibility as lawmakers to protect our districts and our constituents from the spread of this disease.  Our commitment to combating drug trafficking and abuse must begin with our continued support of the federal programs that give our heroes on the frontlines the resources they need to effectively do their jobs.

“The first program I want to highlight is the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants Program.  This program is the only federal funding awarded to state and local law enforcement on a formula basis.  The funds that it provides have gone to support a wide variety of programs critical in the fight against drug abuse, including regional drug task forces.

“Byrne-JAG funding was cut by two thirds in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY08.  As a result of these cuts many regional drug task forces will be forced to close their doors.  Last week, I met with the commander of the Snohomish County Drug Task Force and some of the law enforcement officers who serve on his team. If funding for Byrne-JAG is not restored they are in danger of having to cut as many as six positions from their staff.

“These task forces are essential to keeping pressure on drug traffickers and dealers throughout the country and their absence will lead to an increase in drug trafficking, and abuse.  The problem of drug trafficking requires a constant and vigilant approach.  If this funding is not restored it will have a devastating impact on our ability to combat the spread of meth and other illegal drugs.  It would undo much of the progress we have made, and require an increased future commitment in both time and resources just to bring us back to where we are today.

“In light of the tremendous cut this year, funding for Byrne-JAG in FY09 is more important than ever.  I urge the Committee to recommend funding for this program at its full authorized amount to provide the resources that state and local law enforcement needs to do their jobs. Crime isn’t just a local issue and we owe it to our constituents to help protect them.

“Another important law enforcement program within DOJ’s budget is the Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, program. In his budget for FY09, the President has zeroed out this critical program.  Last year the President proposed cutting the COPS program by more than $500 million dollars.  Congress disregarded that request and increased its funding by $45 million.    I ask the Committee to again disregard the President’s budget request and provide full funding for COPS in your budget resolution.

“Last year I visited the Drug Enforcement Administration’s training facilities at Quantico and took part in some of the training DEA provides for state and local law enforcement.  I got a small taste of the dangers faced by the men and women on the front lines of the fight against drugs. They confront dangerous criminals, hazardous chemicals and life-threatening explosives every time they bust a meth lab. Our DEA agents do great work and the training they provide is useful preparation for local law enforcement.  I encourage this Committee to include enough funding in its budget resolution to fully fund the DEA.

“While efforts to keep drugs out of our communities and out of the hands of our children are essential in the fight against meth and other drugs, we must also make sure we are working to help those that have become addicted to these drugs.  Investing in drug treatment programs not only saves the lives of the people in treatment, but reduces the prevalence of drug use and drug related crime in our communities. As long as there is a market for these illicit drugs, the dealers will find a way to deliver them.

“I recently visited the Evergreen Manor treatment facility in my district and met with some people in recovery from methamphetamine and opiate addiction. These are people who have worked hard every day and must work hard for the rest of their lives to continuously defeat their addictions.

“One of these individuals made a comment that stuck with me.  His goal, he said, was not only to stay clean, but to get his life back.  Drug addiction can be a death sentence, but even before it kills, it robs people of their lives.  By funding drug treatment programs we not only give these people a chance to beat their addictions, we give them the opportunity to get their lives back.

“One program I would like to highlight is the Drug Court program, which blends the oversight of a court with the therapeutic capabilities of a drug treatment program.  Drug courts are widely recognized as the most effective solution for reducing crime and recidivism among drug-addicted offenders in the criminal justice system. They come at a fraction of the cost of standard incarceration, and they are effective.  In my district, the Snohomish County drug court has a 94% success rate.  Funded at $40 million in FY05, the Drug Court program has seen significant cuts in recent years.  I urge the Committee to include full funding for the Drug Court program in this year’s budget resolution.

“Another federal program that is critical for drug treatment programs throughout the country is the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant. This grant is the backbone of our nation’s publicly funded treatment and prevention system and serves our most vulnerable citizens.  Providing adequate funding for treatment efforts is a critical step in combating drug abuse.

“Finally, I want to emphasize the importance of education and prevention efforts in the fight against drugs.  Both the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities and the Drug-Free Communities programs are critical to ensuring safe, healthy, and drug-free schools. They also provide funds for programs to teach students about the dangers of drug abuse, giving them lessons they may take with them for the rest of their lives.

“The programs that I have mentioned here are essential to tackling every angle of the problem of drug abuse.  We must continue to be vigilant in our approach to the problems of drug trafficking, and abuse, and maintain a consistent and adequate level of funding for these programs.

“I again thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee today.  I have additional comments that I will submit for the record.

“Thank you and I’m happy to answer any questions.”