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    Money needed to win war on drugs, grand jury says

    In a report, jurors call for more enforcement, coordination, drug dogs and for drug addiction insurance.

    By SHELBY OPPEL

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2000


    TALLAHASSEE -- As law enforcement officers patrol docks on the Miami River, dockworkers in cahoots with drug traffickers sweep huge cargo containers over officers' heads and drop them on their cars.

    The Florida prison system has only enough drug-sniffing dogs to fully search each institution once a year.

    Despite recent increases in funding for residential treatment, 80 percent of drug addicts who need help can't get it.

    So says a statewide grand jury, which investigated Florida's drug control efforts and has issued a challenge to state leaders: If you want to win the war on drugs, you've got to pay.

    "Public lip service won't do; action is essential and resources are the key," said the report, released Thursday.

    The grand jury, empaneled in September 1999, praised Gov. Jeb Bush and state lawmakers for recent efforts to stem the supply of and demand for illegal drugs, such as the creation of the state's first office of drug control and hefty increases in funding for residential treatment for addicts.

    Yet more must be done, the grand jury report said:

    The state should establish a Miami River Authority to regulate docks and prevent drug trafficking on what the grand jury called "a free entryway for illegal drugs into our state."

    State and federal lawmakers should provide more money for the National Guard, for drug courts in each county, and for a state intelligence center to coordinate drug-fighting efforts.

    Florida Highway Patrol officers, as well as state prison officials, need more drug-sniffing dogs, which the grand jury called "cost-effective, non-intrusive and reliable" for detecting drugs.

    Lawmakers can turn to sources other than tax dollars, the grand jury report said.

    The state should explore how to tax the sales of illegal drugs without forcing individuals to incriminate themselves on their tax returns; use proceeds from the sale of property seized during drug cases; and step up the collection of fines on drug dealers.

    Another money-saving change, the grand jury report said, would be to prohibit defense attorneys from requesting pretrial depositions of witnesses, particularly law enforcement officers. Those officers would serve the public better on patrol, rather than in court, the report said.

    The grand jury also said drug education should be expanded to middle and high schools. And lawmakers should consider changing the school structure in most Florida counties, from middle schools, composed of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, to junior high schools for seventh- through ninth-graders.

    Delaying the entry of sixth- and ninth-graders into more mature settings, "can bolster sixth- and ninth-graders' images of themselves as leaders in their schools, as well as postpone their exposure to the higher availability of illicit drugs found in high schools," the report said.

    The report also advocates insurance coverage for drug addiction. To lead by example, the grand jury said, the state should require such coverage in its next health insurance contract for state employees.

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