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HARRIS LAW COLUMN
Why Gibson wanted Putnam County to hand over $10,000

By SAMUEL J. HARRIS
Putnam Pit columnist

At a time when the city and county are both hurting for revenue, why would Putnam County give its share of a $20,000 windfall to the Drug Task Force?

State law says the money should be split between the county and the arresting agency. But the county's fiscal review committee has been charmed by District Attorney General William Gibson's plea that the drug task force keep all the money because several nearby counties have already decided to give 100 percent of drug fines to the arresting agency. Why?

In 1997 the Criminal Justice Dept. of the federal government began a program to intercept drugs that were being distributed by means of the nation's highways.
Putnam County received money for the salaries of two drug officers and their drug dogs to patrol the highways, as well as the salary of a secretary. But the grant only pays for the salaries of the unit members. All other expenses are paid from the proceeds from the convictions made on the arrests the officers make.

So the $10,000 that went to Putnam County from the drug force's arrest is needed to pay expenses not covered by the grant.

"This money would extend the life of the interdiction group," Gibson said.
District Attorney law (for those of you who are naive or literal-minded, there is no such thing as DA law) says "usually" the drug task force keeps all the money. "Usually" here is used as a code word for "to hell with what the law is supposed to be, there's money involved and we're keeping it."

Gibson is quoted as saying, "This money would extend the life of the interdiction group." That's true, but why is that important?

In a story on the controversy, The Herald-Citizen doesn't mention what I heard on 780-AM (which regrettably has left the talk-news mode). Guy Len McGowan, the arrestee (or the payor) pleaded guilty but did not receive any jail time. Everybody take note, justice in America means that if you can pay money you can avoid jail time. If this is true, why is it important to give the money to the interdiction task force?

In my opinion - and this is an opinion column - the No.1 rule of bureaucracy is to perpetuate its existence: The stated purpose of any governmental agency is secondary to its self-perpetuation. That's why the state is running out of money. Bureaucracies keep growing and growing so that they can not be extinguished.

The last thing DCS wants is for every child to belong to a happy family. If that goal were ever reached, DCS could be terminated. The criminal "just-us" industry, consisting of police, deputies, jailers, probation officers, judges, clerks, social workers, bail bondsmen, lawyers, etc., can not afford for a system where there are no criminals. It would wipe out the industry. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan could cut the interest rate down to 1% and all these people would still be out of a job.

That's not to say that society can achieve the ultimate goal of no crime. What I'm saying is that the industry seeks to perpetuate and extend its powers. A down-turn in crime would mean some people get laid off. Politicians derive some of their power by their ability to hand out jobs. Thus, more and more activity is criminalized probably without asking why or considering the consequences of answering that question.

So the cash-needy county should just give up 10 grand? Why? The interdiction drug task force and the DA were willing to let the McGowan go without jail time if he paid money. So, using this case as an example, the interdiction task force exists for the purpose of collecting fines for the purpose of funding the task force so it can collect more fines to fund the task force's efforts to collect more fines to fund the task force ... Sorry I got lost trying to apply logic and common sense to the whole situation.

Also as a practical response to Mr. Gibson, I would ask who paid for the jail where Mr. McGowan was transported? Who paid for the back-up that the interdiction officers relied upon? Who paid for the communication system used by the interdiction officers? Who paid for the initial training of the officers? Who paid for the court system that adjudicated the case? Who will monitor his probation? The state legislature in theory has considered the appropriate allocation of the fine. True, the county commissioners can hand over the money to the interdiction task force, but when they can't find $10,000 to fund the courts, the Sheriff's office, the roads, the schools . . . 

Well I guess that's ultimately what financial politics is all about. When they can't raise money for the teachers, where will they get the money? The people. Well don't put off until tomorrow what you can put off today.

I wonder how the $20,000 dollars will be spent? I wonder whether the county commissioners have the guts to say, "No, we are following state law."