Due to federal budget cuts, the Missouri Sheriff Methamphetamine Action Relief Team (MoSMART), which has been funded for the past seven years, is facing a cut in staff and a blow to the organization's continued fight in the war on meth.
Announcement came earlier this week that the federally funded program has been axed.
"This is going to be devastating to our department," said Lawrence County Sheriff Brad DeLay. "We have one officer dedicated to investigation into meth labs and the people who operate them. If the county commissioners don't see fit to fund his position, southwest Missouri is going to be right up there at the top of the nation's list in methamphetamine production again."
That's not a list the sheriff wants to make.
"On top of everything else that is going on, the increase in child sex crimes, thefts and other criminal activity taking place in the county, some things will just have to take a back seat," DeLay said.
"It's aggravating," DeLay continued. "Just as we are starting to make headway and put a few huge dents into methamphetamine production in the county, the funding is cut. They pulled the rug out from under us."
Lawrence County's meth investigator is one of about 30 specialized law enforcement officials in the state who are dedicated to cracking down on meth.
Due to local funding cuts, the Combined Ozarks Multi-Jurisdictional Enforcement Team (COMET), operated through the Missouri State Highway Patrol, is losing two officers and the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force is losing one.
"They keep passing these great laws to control access to pseudoephedrine," DeLay said. "What they need to focus on is providing the manpower to enforce them."
DeLay said that departments like his will be forced to rely on area drug task forces if the position in his department is eliminated.
"They are already understaffed, and it will just take them that much longer to address anything we might find," DeLay said. "Losing one person in an agency the size of ours is catastrophic."
DeLay said his departmental budget has been cut so drastically in the past two years, there is nothing left to cut.
"How are we expected to fight [this problem] without the tools and resources to do it?" DeLay asked.
"I know the budget is bad, but nothing is as important as the safety of our residents," DeLay said. "I would expect an increase in meth manufacturing if we lose our dedicated officer. With that will come an increase in home invasions, thefts and other related crimes as these people look for ways to get money for their drug habits."
Though funding for a dedicated officer pursuing meth cooks and destroying meth labs may be cut, the Lawrence County sheriff's Department has two openings, one for a deputy and one for a bailiff.
"If hired into one of those positions, our current dedicated officer will still be able to continue working in the department, but his duties will be change dramatically," DeLay said, "and the flow of information in the prosecuting attorney's office will be drastically impeded. Where all the local information is currently funneled to one officer, the work will be divided among several officers who are not always able to communicate their information to one another."
For the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force, losing one officer is not as devastating as it is to smaller departments in the area.
"We still have key personnel in place," said Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly, who heads up the task force. "We'll still be able to function, although it does make our jobs harder."
Epperly has already lost four deputies and three part-time jailers due to county budget cuts and the failure of a proposed 3/16th-cent tax increase to help fund law enforcement last month.
"It's going to affect us," Epperly said. "The other officers will just have to pick up where the other officer has been cut."
Epperly said his officers are seeing an increase in the number of "shake and bake" labs in and around Barry County.
"We will continue to have this problem until they take pseudoephedrine completely off the market," he said.
The Missouri Public Safety and Corrections Appropriations Committee is reportedly expecting anywhere from $300 million to half a billion dollars cut from that budget, which will impact law enforcement agencies statewide.
MoSMART funded positions have been responsible for approximately 80 percent of the meth busts in the last 10 years, over 17,000 labs statewide.