Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Warren drug force expands

Agency raises about $168,000

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — After raising about $168,000 from communities and the county, the Warren County Drug Task Force is ready to spread out.

        Director John Burke said he is hiring agents, has brought a part-time secretary on board and is working on a deal for donated office space.

        Contributions began funnelling in after Mr. Burke called in November for each Warren County community to contribute $1 per resident to pay for an expansion.

        Mr. Burke said his plans for expansion are scaled back from the top-dollar request of $383,000, which county commissioners rejected in fall.

        Instead of financing the venture, commissioners challenged the task force to raise money, promising to match all new dollars. With that agreement, the fund-raising effort has potential to bring in another $40,000, when Mr. Burke finishes meeting with the remaining communities.

        “We're cutting corners. What was presented to commissioners was the optimum. We're finding ways to get it done,” Mr. Burke said.

        A donation of office space will save the task force at least $12,000 a year. In addition, Mr. Burke said he is trying to find used furniture for the office, which could open in February or March.

        Steve Arrasmith, a sergeant with the Warren County Sheriff's Office, joined the task force this week as its first full-time agent. His salary is paid by the task force.

        A second agent, Denny Luken, a retiring Cincinnati police investigator, begins work Feb. 12. The task force will draw on his experience in the city's pharmaceutical diversion unit to develop investigations into the illegal trade of prescription drugs, Mr. Burke said.

        In addition Sheriff Tom Ariss said he will donate a deputy to work full-time for the squad in May.

        “The bottom line is that this is important to the county and our participation is necessary,” Sheriff Ariss said.

        “That's another part of the job. We're paying our $5,000 into the task force, and whatever more we can do to help John, that's what we are doing.”

        Mr. Burke's call for financial help from communities came after commissioners refused to pay the full tab to hire three agents and a secretary, and to lease and equip a covert office. Mr. Burke sought to expand the understaffed squad that he said was forced to ignore up to 20 drug tips a week.

        Until now, the squad has operated with no full-time officers and had relied on agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation to provide undercover work. More than half of its $98,500 budget came from a federal grant, and another $40,000 was split among six cities and townships, the prosecutor's office and the sheriff. Each contributed $5,000 annually.

        So far, only two communities — Hamilton and Wayne townships — have rejected the per-capita funding request altogether, Mr. Burke said.

        Some small communities gave what they could, while those with larger budgets contributed the full amount. Even the Wayne Township Residents Association committed $50 to the cause, Mr. Burke said.


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