Increase In Number Of Busts Weighs On Taxpayers

Charges last week against 47 people alleged to be part of a large heroin pipeline through the Jamestown area should be even more evidence that Chautauqua County should be designated a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, asked for the President’s Office of National Drug Control Policy in June to add Chautauqua County to the list. The designation would provide more equipment, technology and resources to area police agencies as they deal with the public safety end of the county’s drug problem. There are currently 28 such areas nationally that include 16 percent of all counties in the United States covering 60 percent of the national population. Each area assesses the drug trafficking threat in its defined area for the upcoming year, develops strategies to deal with the threat, designs initiatives to implement the strategies, proposes funding necessary and prepares an annual report describing its annual performance.

The designation would undoubtedly help the county’s police agencies and we hope Schumer is successful in securing such federal help. Unfortunately, the federal designation only deals with one side of the drug problem.

County officials recently discussed the increase in assigned counsel costs from $250,000 a few years ago to possibly more than $1 million next year. Some of that increase is caused by a state-mandated increase in payment to assigned counsel cases. Some of the increase comes with the need to assign a lawyer – on the taxpayer’s dime – whenever there are multiple defendants in a case. Assigned counsel costs will continue to increase if police agencies uphold their end of the bargain and break big drug pipelines.

Taxpayers already pay a steep price by living in drug-infested neighborhoods. Cleaning up neighborhoods and then increasing taxes to pay for assigned counsel adds insult to injury.

George Borrello, R-Irving, is looking at ways to lessen the county’s assigned counsel costs through plans like contracting with a legal aid society, creating an office to handle conflicted assignments or swapping cases among counties between public defenders. More conversation is expected during County Legislature committee meetings this month. Borrello’s conversation is one that has needed to happen for the past couple of years and we commend him on leading this discussion. It is unfortunate any savings could be eaten up by the necessary evil of increased drug enforcement actions.

Thus far, most of the state and federal help in the drug war has been on the enforcement and prosecution side. Perhaps some outside assistance is warranted for the public defenders assigned to these cases as well.