The money raised through the Community Backed Anti-Drug Sales Tax (COMBAT) is making a difference. During an October 16 public forum entitled "The Full Scope of Hope," COMBAT staff and representatives from various programs and agencies funded through the tax described the hopeful signs they've seen that COMBAT has, indeed, helped curb drug abuse and drug-related crime throughout Jackson County.
The Jackson County Drug Task Force was formed in the mid-1980s to more effectively fight drug crimes through pooling the resources of various law enforcement agencies throughout the County. COMBAT funds the task force with approximately $1.8 million per year. The task force's Officer-in-Charge, Captain Dan Cummings of the Independence Police Department, stressed during the forum, that annual investment is paying dividends.
The task force has 14 detectives, five of whom are working undercover mostly in eastern Jackson County. In the last year alone, task force officers have cleared approximately 40 cases, resulting in felony charges. In the week just prior to this public meeting they arrested suspects who had allegedly operated an OxyContin/heroin ring in Blue Springs. Thus far in 2010, they've made more than 130 drug buys and served 59 search warrants. Both activities are very vital to their undercover operations.
COMBAT has proven crucial, Cummings noted, in transforming Jackson County from the "meth capitol of the world" into an area where the risk of apprehension is considered so high among drug dealers that they rarely establish meth labs within the County's jurisdiction. In the 1990s, Jackson County law enforcement officials handled about 150 meth-lab related cases per year. But in 2009 that number plunged to just six.
"We have eliminated the majority of the meth labs in Jackson County," stated Cummings.
While Cummings and the Jackson County Drug Task Force have focused on catching drug traffickers, Jeanne Carton, principal of the Nowlin Middle School in Independence, has concentrated on trying to prevent her students from becoming drug users through the COMBAT-supported "Success Court" program. Working closely with the Jackson County Family Court, Nowlin officials have developed the program to target youths who appear to be at-risk, including students with poor grades and/or poor attendance records, as well as those who have already dropped out of school.
"Probation officers from the family court will visit the kids' homes and work with their families to personalize a plan of action to help the kids get on track -- get them back in school and going to class regularly," COMBAT Director Stacey Daniels-Young said, following the meeting. "Each child's needs are accessed. Some need tutors or mentors. What 'Success Court' does is show these kids that we are taking a special interest in them and that we want them to succeed."
In recent years, about 75 Nowlin students have participated in the program. Many have seen their grade-point averages double and their attendance increase to nearly 100 percent.
"We have made a difference in the lives of scores of our students," said Carton.
Other presenters at the public forum explained how other COMBAT-funded programs are helping homeless individuals become productive citizens and have assisted abusive families to establish more stable lives.
"We emphasize all three phases -- prevention, treatment and law enforcement -- as we address drug use as both a medical condition and legal issue," Daniels-Young said. "While successful cases are being made by the Task Force going after drug dealers are important, prevention and treatment are also essential. We have to strive everyday to prevent our children from ever using drugs in the first place and to treat those trapped in the grip of addiction, so that they can turn their lives around. Prevention and treatment cut the demand for the poison the drug dealers are peddling."
COMBAT has not been immune to the economic struggles that have swept across the nation in recent years. With consumer sales down, sales tax revenue has also dropped. COMBAT collected $22 million in 2004, but that number dropped to $19.6 million.
However, the re-organization of COMBAT, prompted by Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders' decision to form a review committee in 2007 to make recommendations for improving the program's effectiveness, have helped drive down COMBAT's administrative costs.
"A higher percentage of the tax revenue collected for COMBAT is going toward actually funding programs, rather than overhead expenses," Daniels-Young pointed.
Conducting forums to keep citizens informed and to seek their input was also part of the review committee's suggestions for reorganizing COMBAT.
Other speakers at the October 16 forum included:
Jermine Alberty (Comprehensive Mental Health - Coordinator of Development & Education)
Margot Smith (Child Abuse Prevention Association - Family Support Services Supervisor)
Zelodia Riley (Jackson County Family Court)
Commissioner Sherrill Rosen (Jackson County Family Court)
Angela C. Gravino (Jackson County Prosecutor's Office - Anti-Drug Program Administrator)