HIDTA program will give local law agencies access to drug task force

·3 min read

Jun. 11—Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain said the county's designation at part of the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program means the county will have a local task force to work large drug investigations, and access to a variety of federal intelligence and surveillance resources.

Local and federal officials met Thursday to discuss Daviess County's participation in the Appalachia HIDTA program. The county received the designation last month, after going though an application process that included the support of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

"It's a very, very difficult and competitive process to receive the designation," Cain said in an interview after Thursday's meeting.

Cain said local officials had hoped to learn how much federal funding would be available for drug investigations under the program.

But, "it will probably be 30 days before we know the level of funding," Cain said.

"We initially thought the HIDTA would not become operational until January, but now there's a possibility of the HIDTA becoming operational this year" perhaps as early as July, Cain said.

A task force of officers and agents will be stationed in Owensboro, in the FBI's office in the city. Agencies will designate officers to the task force. For example, the sheriff's department will have one deputy working full-time for the task force.

The FBI will coordinate the task force. When asked how the task force will coordinate with local law enforcement agencies, Cain said those details will be worked out in the near future.

"I can't tell you right now what that's going to look like," Cain said.

The sheriff's office will pay the salary of the deputy assigned to the task force. But the agency will be receiving reimbursement for overtime the deputy works, up to $18,000 this year and up to $19,000 in 2022, Cain said.

The concept behind the task force "on the much bigger picture" of targeting large drug trafficking operations, Cain said. The HIDTA model has shown that dollars spent on investigations are exceeded by what investigators recover in the street value of drugs seized and assets forfeited from traffickers.

In the Appalachia HIDTA "for every dollar invested, they are seeing an $84 return on investment," said Major Barry Smith, the sheriff's office's chief deputy. The National HIDTA program has a $68 return on investment, Smith said.

Being part of Appalachia HIDTA means local law enforcement will have access to federal surveillance, including wire taps, and will receive intelligence on drug traffickers from federal agencies, Cain said.

Funds will also be available for buy money for drug investigations, and members of the task force will have their training and work travel paid by the HIDTA.

Local agencies work drug trafficking cases now, but the HIDTA designation "is going to bring added resources, so we are better able to do it," Cain said.

The HIDTA districts across the country coordinate with one another on investigations, Cain said.

Drug activity has changed over the years in Daviess County, with homemade methamphetamine being replaced by crystal meth that is trafficked into the region by large drug cartels.

The county has also seen an increase in fentanyl cases, including incidents where OPD officers have responded to fatal overdoses of fentanyl disguised to look like prescription drugs.

"The complexity of these investigations far exceeds anything we had seen five to 10 years ago," Cain said.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse