COOS BAY, Ore. -- The future is doubtful for the South Coast Interagency Narcotics Team because of the approval of Measure 3, which limits how law enforcement agencies can use forfeiture-generated funds.
"With Measure 3, in about 12 months we'll be gone," said Sgt. Dan Looney, one of the team's leaders.
The measure, passed overwhelmingly by voters in November, requires law enforcement agencies to win a conviction before forfeited property can be sold or used. It also requires forfeiture penalties be proportional to the severity of the crime and sets up stricter reporting guidelines that agencies must follow.
None of that bothers the narcotics team, said special prosecutor R. Paul Frasier. The problem, he said, is the requirement that changes how proceeds from forfeitures can be used.
Under the measure, most of the forfeiture funds must go to drug rehabilitation programs; law enforcement is limited to using only 25 percent of the value of seized goods, intended to reimburse agencies of their out-of-pocket costs for seizing and holding property.
"Conviction first, we can live with that. Burden of proof, we can live with that. Taking our money, it's going to kill us," Frasier said.
County law enforcement officials started the narcotics team 12 years ago to handle multi-jurisdictional drug cases that were too complex and required too much investigative time for local police departments to handle.
The team could handle multiple investigations crossing jurisdictional lines, meaning drug dealers smuggling contraband into or out of the South Coast finally could be investigated by a single agency.
"These people are very mobile and very sophisticated and we needed an agency that could match their mobility and sophistication," said North Bend Police Chief Gil Zaccaro, who also is the chairman of the team's executive board and one of its founding members.
Frasier said the agency is busy now trying to keep its budget from collapsing.
The narcotics team has four staffers on its payroll, including Frasier, and additional officers are funded by area police departments.
Frasier said the narcotics team needs a minimum of $300,000 to operate.
A federal grant typically makes up $175,000 of the agency's budget each year. The team must match the contribution with its own funds to qualify for the grant, but Frasier said the agency wouldn't be able to do that now.
Policy changes intended to save money, therefore, are taking place.
Frasier said the agency has been directed by its steering committee, which comprises all the police chiefs in the team's coverage area, to stop seizing assets in cases in which holding property would exceed the 25 percent limit the agency could recover.
Coos County Commissioner Nikki Whitty said she is scheduling a meeting with all the city managers, state police, mayors, judges and district attorneys from Coos, Curry and western Douglas counties to ask local communities to come up with funding for the team.
Efforts are also underway to seek additional funding from the Legislature. Another savior may be a Lincoln County lawsuit that hopes to overturn Measure 3 by claiming it is unconstitutional because it amends more than one part of the Constitution.
Zaccaro said it will be a challenge to raise the necessary money to keep the team operating beyond one more year.
"If people feel it's worth it for us to have a narcotics enforcement agency, then were just going to have to come up with the money," he said.