KSP: Meth labs up, cleanup funding down
Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 8:02 pm
By BRUCE SCHREINER
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Methamphetamine lab busts are running at a record pace in Kentucky, but a crucial supply of federal money that law enforcement agencies long counted on to clean up the hazardous drug-making operations has run dry.
The recent cutoff of hundreds of thousands in federal money to help dispose of the potentially explosive materials has put Kentucky State Police in a financial pinch just when meth production is spiking.
Kentucky law enforcement seized 1,080 meth labs last year, a record for the state and third-highest in the country in 2010 behind Tennessee and Missouri. So far this year, the Kentucky busts are up nearly 20 percent from a year ago, police said, noting meth lab seizures in the state barely surpassed 700 in 2009.
“It couldn’t happen at a worse time for us,” said state police Maj. Tony Terry, who oversees lab seizures as commander of the state police’s special enforcement troop.
Federal funding for the lab cleanup program has run out and it’s up to Congress to decide whether a new round of money will be forthcoming, said Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Rusty Payne.
Kentucky State Police said it benefited from about $725,000 in the federal funding last year to combat meth, said state police spokesman Lt. David Jude. About $325,000 went to purchase equipment and supplies, provide training and pay overtime for officers involved in dismantling labs. About $400,000 went to pay contractors to haul off the confiscated materials.
Until new funding is found, the lost federal support will be absorbed in the state police budget, Jude said. No plan is in place yet on reallocating money.
Law enforcement partly attributes the proliferation of meth labs to the growing prevalence of “shake-and-bake” meth, in which the drug is concocted quickly in a 2-liter soda bottle using readily available but volatile chemicals. Previous methods usually required more steps performed in a stationary lab that produced larger amounts of meth.
All told, it costs about $2,600, on average, to clean up a meth lab, state police said.
With the loss of federal funding, state police will try to recruit local police and sheriff’s offices to shoulder more of the cleanup load, though the local agencies are coping with austere budgets of their own. Some small, rural police agencies have few, if any, personnel with the specialized training and equipment to dispose of such potentially combustible materials as battery acid, fertilizer and drain cleaner used in the illicit drug production.
“You’re basically handling a mini-bomb,” Terry said. “It’s a very volatile situation.”
It typically takes several hours to dismantle a lab and clean up a site, said state police Sgt. Gerald Wilson, who supervises KSP anti-drug crews in the western half of Kentucky.
Cleanup crews don layers of protective clothing for the painstaking process. They take samples of the chemicals found, then separate and neutralize the hazardous materials wherever they may be found. Meth labs have been detected in homes, vehicles, barns, houseboats, motels, caves, along roadsides and even under porches, Wilson said. Many times, the cleanup is done in the middle of the night after a lab has been busted.
“The most cumbersome thing is waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning, responding to these labs and trying to deal with everything at night,” Wilson said. “With all the chemicals that you have to mess with, knowing that you’re holding something that could potentially blow up.”
For a number of years, state police relied on an influx of federal money from the community oriented policing services — or COPS program — to help pay for cleanup of meth labs found in Kentucky and disposal of the drug-making materials.
Kentucky law enforcement agencies spent about $2 million combined last year to fight meth — representing the efforts of state police, local sheriff’s and police departments and other law enforcement.
State police Commissioner Rodney Brewer vowed his agency will stay on the offensive against meth makers, but the loss of federal support will hurt.
Other steps to curb illegal meth production have faltered.
In an effort to try to hamper methamphetamine manufacturing, Kentucky lawmakers considered a bill this year that would have required a doctor’s prescription to buy over-the-counter medicines that have found illicit uses in meth production, but that measure died. Among those readily obtainable medicines is pseudoephedrine, found in many common cold and sinus infection medicines.
Meanwhile, the struggle to crack down at the local level continues.
Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain said several of his agency’s officers have the training for meth lab cleanups. His office was among the Kentucky law enforcement agencies that received federal funding to help cover overtime, training and equipment to combat math. That funding source has run out, and Cain is faced with reallocating his budget to make up for the lost support in fighting a drug he said is second-to-none for the toll it takes on its users and their families.
“We’ll find the money somewhere else,” he said.
Other counties are more reliant on state police to help take down the labs and clean up the site, and likely don’t have the funds to pick up more of the load.
In Monroe County along the Tennessee border, Sheriff Roger Barlow has one deputy trained to deal with meth labs. He’d like to get the training for more of his deputies, but “our funds are very low right now.” His deputy can team with other trained officers in the area to take down smaller meth labs.
“If it’s a big lab, we call state police in,” he said.
Published in The Messenger 3.30.11