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Regional task force to be housed in Marengo County

Changes are ahead for the 17th Circuit Drug Task Force as the Marengo County Commission passed a resolution for the courthouse to become the administrative hosts for a new regional drug task force office during a meeting Tuesday.

District Attorney Greg Griggers appeared before the commission to request the resolution and explain the importance of the move in which the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) will house the new regional task force.

“There’s a lot of benefits for us and for Marengo County I believe,” Griggers said. “With it being a regional task force now, we’re not limited to just working in Greene, Sumter and Marengo counties. All of our bad guys run across county lines … now we can pursue that into the 4th circuit and up into Tuscaloosa under the umbrella of SBI.”

In the past, the 17th District Task force has exclusively served Marengo, Sumter and Greene counties. Now the group has been asked to move to a regional format. The region will grow to include Tuscaloosa County and the 4th Circuit which includes Bibb, Dallas, Hale, Perry and Wilcox counties.

According to Griggers, agents will pursue bigger projects in the regional system and be able to do more investigative work.

When it comes to hosting the 17th District Task Force, the county did not benefit financially. However, under the regional setup administrators can be compensated for time spent on their work, which is done in addition to their regular, everyday duties.

Brian Forester, Law Enforcement Programs Supervisor at the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, said that funding was cut from the Justice Assistance Grant program and that hurt the ability to fund local departments for multi-jurisdictional units’ where available funds went from $2.1 million statewide to $500,000.

“That really, really hurt our efforts,” said Forester. “We went from funding grants over $100,000 to doing $10,000 or $50,000 apiece over a 12-month period. That’s hard to work off of especially when local budgets are strapped.”

ALEA approached ADECA to regionalize drug task force agencies into seven regions, which will allow the program to give grants upwards of $175,000 to $200,000 per region.

Employment status will not change for the local 17th District Drug Task Force, but now the unit will have backing from a regional network under the SBI heading.

Russell Morrison, an SBI investigator, said that it brings the total people he supervises in the area from eight to 14.

“I don’t see anything negative about this program,” said Morrison. “Relationships that you have with a sheriff or a particular county may change because a sheriff may get voted out. If you have this type of task force in place, you don’t have to worry about it.”

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, April 12, print edition of the Demopolis Times.)