Monday, November 13, 2000

One man can't win drug war in Warren Co.

        The Warren County Drug Task Force wears a white shirt. Local drug dealers must sleep better at night knowing their foe is a one-man operation. Curse the Warren County Commission for this predicament.

        At a recent obscenity-laced meeting with law enforcement officials, the commissioners turned down a task force request for nearly $400,000 in county funds. The task force wanted the money to hire and equip a staff to nab high-volume drug dealers.

        The request was denied despite a manpower shortage. John Burke, task force director and lone full-time investigator — as well as filing clerk — says under-staffing makes it impossible for him to follow up “10-20 tips a week about drug activity.”

        The county commissioners made a counter offer. But first, senior member Mike Kilburn unleashed a string of four-letter words to earn his stripes as the cussing commissioner.

Go fish
               The commissioners told John Burke to, in essence, go fund yourself.

        He can ask for more money from county agencies already funding the task force. The commissioners will match what he receives.

        He's invited officials from 60 agencies throughout the county to a Nov. 20 ante-up meeting.

        Now, John Burke can add “fund-raiser” to his job description.

        “I don't like asking for money,” he told me. “I'm a cop.”

        After serving nearly 32 years on the Cincinnati police force, he retired in 1999 to take this thankless job.

        Mike Kilburn told me he thinks funding the task force is “throwing good money down a rat hole.

        “We've got a sheriff's office with an $8 million budget. If the drug problem is that bad, the sheriff and prosecutor should get together and reassign their priorities.”

        I like Mike Kilburn. He's a crafty, five-term commissioner. Folksy and prone to use salty language, he's passionate about doing right by the people he serves.

        But this time he's wrong.

        Warren is Ohio's second-fastest-growing county. Since 1990, population is up 34.5 percent to an estimated 153,292 people.

        “With that kind of growth comes customers in the drug business,” John Burke said. Properly staffed, a drug task force can coordinate countywide investigations aimed at catching drug suppliers.

        The cussing commissioner feels the legal system is soft on “the big guys dealing drugs.” He's “outraged” when drug offenders get off with a slap on the wrist from lenient judges and plea-bargain-happy prosecutors.

        Me, too.

        But that's no reason to withhold funds from a task force whose mission is to arrest drug dealers. John Burke can't be a judge and jury, too. He's only one man.

        So's Mike Kilburn.

        And, so, too, is Warren County's Drug Task Force.

Bad business
               The commissioners should realize it's counterproductive and harmful to the county's well-being to withhold funds from a drug task force because of a beef with judges and prosecutors.

        Here's hoping the commissioners honor John Burke's request. Give him the money to hire investigators and nail dope peddlers.

        The commissioners have the power. And the money. They can help the man in the white shirt turn the sweet dreams of Warren County's drug dealers into nightmares.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at (513) 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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