Anti-drug task force to disband

Funding stream runs dry

Money makes the world go ’round.

For lack of it, the 22nd District Multijurisdictional Drug Task Force is disbanding next month.

The task force will be shut down June 28 unless a last-ditch funding source is found, Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane said.

Formed in 1998, the task force is meant to combat drug trafficking and sales, especially of methamphetamine, by devoting officers solely to drug investigations. It is a partnership between CPD, the Montezuma County and Dolores County sheriffs and the District Attorney’s office. The task force used a network of confidential informants to set up stings and catch drug dealers red-handed.

“Just because there isn’t a formal task force doesn’t mean that, individually and together, the departments won’t work drugs,” Lane said. “It just means we won’t have a separate office.”

For Sheriff Dennis Spruell, a proponent of rigorous drug enforcement, the decision is a letdown. He credits the task force for cracking down on meth labs around the two counties. Spruell rejects the idea that drugs are a “victimless crime,” arguing that the trade contributes to burglary and domestic violence, among other social ills.

“It’s very disappointing. I hate to see it go away. It served the residents of Montezuma County well,” he said. “When you got no money, you got no money.”

A 2010 report showed that 65 percent of children in foster care in Montezuma and Dolores counties were placed there by social service personnel because of meth use by their parents or guardians.

“It continues to be an issue,” director Dennis Story said. “Not only meth, but other illegal substances like cocaine and heroin create a dangerous environment for children. And while it is now legal for recreational use, it’s still risky for children to be raised in homes where marijuana is abused.”

The deputy currently assigned to the task force will be shifted to a full-time narcotics officer, Spruell added.

The task force has relied heavily on state and federal grants to stay alive. It almost folded in 2011, but a $60,000 grant from gambling revenues saved the day.

The task force gained notoriety in June 2000 when officers set up a narcotics checkpoint near Rico, en route to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Thirteen people were cited for possessing small amounts of marijuana — now legal — and eight were arrested for possessing psilocybin mushrooms.

Planet Bluegrass, the concert organizer, filed a class-action lawsuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled several months later, in November 2000, that such checkpoints violated the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.