September 2, 2014

STING’s budget cut by 23 percent

Keister says could really affect program next year

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NORTHERN MICHIGAN — The Strike Team Investigative Narcotics Group recently learned that its budget is being cut by approximately 23 percent.

Detective Lt. Jeff Keister said that would amount to approximately $26,000 less in federal funds for the program.

“It has an effect on us,” he said. “For this coming fiscal year, even though it’s cut out, we’re making some cuts to some other things, not personnel. As I see it, we should be good for this coming fiscal year. It’s going to be next year that could be an issue.”

Keister said STING, which currently receives some funding from the local units of government that it serves, might have to ask for more money from those units in order to make up for the loss.

“The only way to make that up is to reach out and ask our entities to contribute more,” he said. “There’s definitely that possibility. There’s also the possibility of moving some personnel around and trying to save that way.”

Keister said because the organization runs a tight ship and generally keeps a balanced budget, there was some fund balance left over that could make up for some of the loss this year.

“But we can’t do that every year,” he said.

STING has had its budget cut several times over the past few years. Keister said the amount of funding for the program has gone from around $240,000 10 years ago to just $93,000 this year.

“We’ve had our budget cut every year for the last four years,” he said. “There has been some programs that have been enacted legislatively that have to be funded. This is where they’re getting the money, out of the grant funds we utilize. When you have only a certain amount of money and you’re adding programming to it, somebody’s going to be shorted.”

Keister said some of that money has been put into other programs, such as drug courts and community outreach programs.

“It’s kind of an irony that they’re establishing drug courts but taking money away from the people responsible for putting people into the drug court,” Keister said.

He said he hadn’t been expecting this big of a cut this year.

“I was surprised,” he said. “But every team in the state took some pretty big cuts.”

He said STING is an important program because it serves a need that the local police departments can’t serve.

“What we’re doing is providing a service that a uniformed officer can’t,” Keister said. “It’s hard to look at a drug house when you’re in a patrol car. Having plain-clothed officers available to keep an eye on some of those places is important.”

He called policing drugs a “tough business to be in.”

“A lot of people say they’re victimless crimes,” he said. “ I would counter that the drug usage brings up a couple of questions. Why are you selling drugs? ‘I spent my rent money, so I’m selling drugs.’ What happened to your rent money? ‘I used it up so I’m selling drugs.’ What are you doing to get more money? They’re breaking into places and committing property crimes.”

Keister said prescription drugs remain one of the biggest issues his officers face.

“On the other side of that is heroin seizures have doubled or tripled,” he said.

They have increased from 4- to 8-percent of STING investigations to 11 percent, according to Keister. He said people become addicted to strong opiates, and when they are arrested and weaned off of prescription drugs, if they haven’t been cured of their addiction, heroin is often their next choice.

“Heroin is the next best thing,” he said. “People are looking for that because it’s the biggest bang for the buck.”

Despite the cuts to the budget, Keister said he would not be seeking additional funding from local entities this year. STING’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

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