Police agencies join forces to fight drugs

JAMESTOWN – Tight budgets and overwhelming caseloads have compelled local police agencies to team up in the fight against narcotics.

The Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force – perhaps the most well-known of these partnerships – has members spanning Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Wyoming counties.

The multi-jurisdictional task force, formed in 1991, has indeed played a significant role in identifying and rounding up drug users and traffickers alike, most notably members of the Angueira heroin distribution ring in 2012.

“(The Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force) is very effective,” said Joseph Gerace, Chautauqua County sheriff. “We still continue to pursue drug dealers throughout the county … but we have seen a tremendous decline in funding over the years … that has absolutely hurt the effort.”

Gerace said the Chautauqua component of the task force is now manned only by the Sheriff’s Office and the Dunkirk Police Department.

The Jamestown Police Department opted out of the task force in March 2012.

“(The decision) came down to having more operational control over our personnel and investigations,” said Harry Snellings, Jamestown chief of police. “We no longer could afford the way we did business.”

The JPD has been equally effective in its own right, teaming up with the New York State Police CNET, or community narcotics enforcement teams, and conducting strings of drug busts throughout the city.

“Our relationship with the (New York State Police) has been fantastic,” Snellings said. “The partnership definitely aids us and allows us to do more things. Every investigation is unique, but when we need additional resources, they have them available.”

Snellings, who also acknowledged having a tight budget, described his decision to restructure the department to maximize drug enforcement at a minimal cost.

“You’ve got to get creative,” Snellings said. “I restructured our investigative section to give me three narcotics investigators with no additional cost to the taxpayers … and then bringing the (New York State Police) CNET also means no additional cost to the taxpayers in Jamestown. We have more investigators dedicated to the city of Jamestown on a regular basis than we ever had … and we’re doing it for less.”

Gerace similarly emphasized the importance of cooperation in maximizing drug enforcement.

“You can’t be a one-agency show,” he said. “We work closely with other agencies routinely because that’s just a necessity in this day and age. (Drugs) are a major problem that we’re trying to deal with with limited resources. That’s why we need the cooperation of all agencies continually.”

A potential consolidation between the Sheriff’s Office and the JPD, a proposal aimed to streamline administrative structures and allow for a more efficient allocation of resources, is still being discussed by committees of city and county officials.

Currently, no decision has been reached.