A cut in federal dollars could mean fewer drug agents in east Mississippi. Thirteen drug task force units in Mississippi are facing major cuts. In all, federal public safety grants for the state have been slashed from $5 million to $1.9 million. This is money that is used to fund: drug courts, task force units and other crime fighting efforts.
Currently, the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department has eight agents and at least two civilians who work with the East Mississippi Drug Task Force. The salaries for four of those agents and one of the administrative assistants is primarily paid for with federal grant funds.
Because the federal money, which comes to the state and pays for those salaries, was cut by more than half, Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie says the number of his staff with the task force will likely be reduced.
"We could have potentially half of the workforce that we have there today. That's going to be less agents to do undercover monitoring of the illegal trafficking of drugs."
In turn, Sheriff Sollie is concerned that the reduction in drug task force personnel will increase crime.
"We all know that drug use is associated with criminal behavior. If we are unable to identify and remove those people who are consuming and/or distributing drugs, crime is only going to go up."
If there is a bright spot in this situation, Sheriff Sollie says it's that despite federal cuts to the task force, the agents who are hired through his office will still have a job.
"No one's going to lose their job. We'll absorb them back into the sheriff's department if we have to."
At this time Sheriff Sollie says it's unknown how much funding the East Mississippi Drug Task Force will lose due to the federal cuts.
Last year the East Mississippi Drug Task Force received $145,000 in federal funds. Lauderdale County contributed $104,000 in allocations and matching funds. The city of Meridian has one agent employed with the task force, and last year it contributed $24,000 in matching funds. According to Sheriff Sollie, 75% of the cases that the East Mississippi Drug Task Force handles in Lauderdale County occur within the city of Meridian.