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Houston Police Chief Hurtt's Response to Federal Budget Cut of HIDTA Funding

March 23, 2005 -- Without consulting state and local law enforcement leaders, the Office of National Drug Control Policy has recommended reducing funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program by almost 60 percent in FY2006, and moving it to the Department of Justices' Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program. This is unilateral, shortsighted and a dangerous policy recommendation. The Administration has not decided how or where it will spend the newly pared down funding or how OCDETF will administer the program. As the chief executive of an agency responsible for designing and implementing the most effective counter-drug strategy for the citizens of Houston, and as president of the Major Cities' Chiefs organization, I will fight this. That is the only option that I have.

The HIDTA program, which began in 1990, has been and continues to be one of the most successful partnerships among federal, state, and local government, as well as a successful national drug enforcement program. The Houston HIDTA region, which Congress officially designated in 1990, is still one of the Nation's primary distribution and transshipment hubs for regional, national, and international drug trafficking organizations. Though we've made great progress, we're not done yet. However, the Houston region is at risk of losing its $8.1M in HIDTA funding with the Administration's cuts, and so much more.

The primary reason for the HIDTA program's success is that each region's decision-making executive board provides an equal partnership among federal, state, and local law enforcement leaders, with a strategy tailored for a regional approach and goals, yet tied to the national drug control mission. Moving what is left of the HIDTA program to OCDETF with no guarantee of an equal voice for all participants will destroy the partnership and collaboration that makes the HIDTA program so successful. Most disturbingly, by eviscerating the HIDTA program and moving the remaining funds to OCDETF, we risk returning to the days when cooperation among law enforcement was episodic rather than systematic, delivered on a case-by-case basis, and found to be generally ineffective at disrupting drug trafficking on our streets and in our neighborhoods.

If the Houston HIDTA loses its funding, we'll lose our opportunity to provide input into and have partial ownership of the federal drug law enforcement strategy for our own city. Moreover, the Houston Police Department will lose approximately $2.9M and 14 positions, the Houston County Sheriff's Office will lose almost $1M and 15 positions, and Sam Houston State University will lose 12 positions. I concur with the recent congressional testimony of Ron Brooks, president of the National Narcotics Officers' Associations' Coalition, which reads, "HIDTA initiatives provide avenues of cooperation, information sharing, deconfliction, and local and regional intelligence analysis that state and local agencies are not able to perform themselves, and that federal agencies are inadequately focused and equipped to perform." This is why the HIDTAs across the Nation are vital-and why we cannot afford to lose our funding.

ONDCP director John Walters claims that the recommendation for reduced HIDTA funding came after the U.S. Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) evaluation, known as "PART-Program Assessment Rating Tool" found that the HIDTA program "did not demonstrate results." However, ONDCP only provided OMB budget summaries and anecdotal information.

The following recent cases exemplify undeniably demonstrable results, by any measure. In 2003, the Houston HIDTA's Major Drug Squad 6 (MDS) dismantled a Houston-based organization that had trafficked methamphetamine, Ecstacy, and marijuana. The organization's leader was tied to a Chinese smuggling group responsible for the smuggling and distribution in excess of 500 pounds of crystal methamphetamine. The MDS arrested 31 defendants, and seized over $2M in assets. The dismantling of this organization has significantly influenced the availability of crystal methamphetamine in our area. In addition, an investigation of associates of the Gulf Cartel implemented by members of the Houston HIDTA's Houston Money Laundering Initiative has resulted in 42 indictments, and the seizure of 851 kilograms of cocaine, 1,377 pounds of marijuana, eleven vehicles, and $6.5M in U.S. currency.

The HIDTA program is the nucleus of the synergy among federal, state, and local drug law enforcement agencies. Losing this influential and successful program will unnecessarily weaken and compromise our sustained attack on the supply of drugs to Houston and the rest of our great nation. It's time we all stood up for our citizens, for our officers, and for ourselves-this is an inappropriate cut, and the wrong move, and we will fight Director Walters' proposals vehemently. After all, our children's futures are at stake, and the criminals are watching.

For additional information, please contact the HPD Public Affairs Division at 713-308-3200.