Federal Moniker May Help Drug War 'High Traffic' Label Would Add to Coffers

Article excerpt

Nassau County law enforcement officials hope a federal drug designation will reduce drug problems by increasing cooperation between agencies and supplying more manpower and money for drug interdiction.

State and federal officials said the federal designation -- called High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area -- should bring millions of dollars to strengthen the Jacksonville area's narcotics-fighting effort. Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover said in a news conference last week he didn't know how much money the area would receive, but FBI spokesman Bill Hurlburt said at the same conference the designated regions usually receive $1 million to $2.5 million each year.

Glover and U.S. Attorney Donna Bucella of the Middle District of Florida will co-chair a committee to oversee the efforts. An executive director and support staff will be hired, but mainly personnel from the law enforcement agencies within the region will do the investigative work, Hurlburt said.

The designation, which covers Duval, Baker, Clay, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, St. Johns and Marion counties, will help local, state and federal officials "do a better job at attacking drug trafficking in the Northeast Florida area," Glover said.

Maj. Mike Hurst of the Nassau County Sheriff's Office, who serves on a countywide drug eradication and enforcement task force, said the designation could mean more drug officers for Nassau County and more seizures of cash and drugs. Last year, Hurst said the department seized more than $700,000 in drug money and more than $500,000 worth of drugs.

With more support, Hurst said, those numbers are likely to increase. That's why his department helped Jacksonville-area federal agencies in a three-year campaign for the designation.

Hurst said federal agencies have the capability of tracking drug seizures to the source and that Nassau County will get a portion of the subsequent takes. That means more money for Nassau County and fewer drug dealers, Hurst said.

"We might get $200,000 off an interstate hit but you are talking $2 [million] to $3 million at a [sea]port," Hurst said. "Drug traffickers can't take those kinds of losses. They'll shift operations and that would be great for Nassau County."

Law enforcement officials say the Jacksonville area's convenience as a transportation and distribution hub played an important role in getting the designation for Northeast Florida. Drugs come to Northeast Florida through the port in shipping containers. These illegal substances can be slipped secretly onto railroad cars and into vehicles traveling the interstate, said Jim McDonough, director of the state's Office of Drug Control.

Drug smugglers also use the area's postal and small-package shipping facilities to distribute their merchandise. …