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Task force grant keeps agency going

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP – Managing Editor
Escambia County officials charged with the task of fighting illegal drug activity received some good news this week as a grant was awarded that allows for the continuation of the 21st Judicial Drug Task Force.
Confirmation was sent to the Escambia County Commission from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs that a $210,000 grant would be awarded for the Drug Task Force program. Matching funds totalling $70,000 has been committed by local agencies.
The grant application was submitted in July. Each year, the task force must reapply for the grant in order to maintain operations.
DTF Commander Keith Hutchins said the grant is all-important in the continued operations of the agency.
The task force is a combined effort of the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, district attorney's office, Brewton Police Department, East Brewton Police Department, Flomaton Police Department and the Atmore Police Department. Each of these organizations provide 25 percent of the salaries for the agents. The cooperation between them creates a single, multi-jurisdictional unit dedicated to the enforcement of drug laws and the investigation of other drug-related violent crime in Escambia County.
Hutchins said the department has had success in combating drugs.
Despite that success, Hutchins said there is still a lot of work to do.
The grant will be funneled through the Escambia County Commission who administers the task force's funding.
Governor Don Seigelman, who notified White on the approval of the grant, said the program makes clear law enforcement's commitment to battling drugs.
Over the past year, the drug task force has made 161 felony drug arrests: 62 for crack cocaine; 54 for marijuana; 18 for crystal methamphetamine; three for powder cocaine and 24 other cases such as prescription and mushrooms. The force has seized 43 firearms.
The grant will help fund the investigation and prosecution of drug offenders, seizure of money and property used in drug-related crimes and surveillance of gangs that distribute crack cocaine, marijuana and other illegal drugs. The task force also trains law enforcement officers in areas of drug abuse and work with local agencies as often as possible.
In addition to making arrests and seizing drugs, the task force also works to prevent drug use by hosting programs in local schools, churches and other organizations.
The 21st Judicial Drug Task Force is comprised of the following law enforcement agencies: Escambia County Sheriff's Office, Atmore Police Department, East Brewton Police Department, Brewton Police Department, Flomaton Police Department, Escambia County District Attorney's Office and the Escambia County Commission.
The task force receives 75 percent of its funding from a grant funded by the Bureau of Justice Affairs Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. The remainder of the funding is provided by the ECSO, BPD, APD and the district attorney's office.