In Our View: Minor Change in Task Force

Skamania County cuts involvement, but outstanding work will continue

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he Clark-Skamania Drug Task Force is losing half its name. Skamania County is pulling out of the task force. At first glance, that might appear to be a drastic blow in the regional war against illegal drugs. For sure, this change doesn't help. But we're drawn to three observations about the news that appeared in Friday's Columbian.First, the staffing reduction is not that severe. The Skamania County Sheriff's Department decided it couldn't afford to keep its one detective on the task force. But that still leaves the overall operation — now known as the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force — with eight sworn officers: Cmdr. Mike Cooke of the Clark County Sheriff's Office (who supervises the unit), two sergeants and five detectives. Also still on board are two financial investigators and two secretaries.

The task force now will concentrate more on Clark County, but that had pretty much been the case anyway because of the larger population base here. Remember, too, that the regional task force consistently works across numerous jurisdictional lines, and that record of cooperation is commendable. Thus, Skamania County will still be kept in the loop of regional efforts.

Second, this change is understandable as law enforcement agencies are forced to do more with less during the economic ravages of the Great Recession and the dreadfully slow recovery.

Skamania is not alone on the fiscal-austerity path. Consider what happened in Josephine County (Grants Pass, Ore.), which, like Skamania, depends on federal subsidies for timber counties. After voters rejected a $12 million levy, the Josephine County Sheriff's Office recently cut major crimes detectives positions, as well as the records department. About 60 jail inmates will be released, leaving just 30 inmates.

So, for Skamania County to decide to no longer contribute a detective to the regional drug task force is no surprise in the harsh economic realities of 2012.

Third, the news about the not-so-major change in staffing produces another opportunity for citizens to notice and appreciate the outstanding work of the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force. Many of its triumphs have required massive coordination of additional staffing from numerous local and regional law enforcement agencies. No better example exists than last year's Operation Gang Green, the largest drug bust in Clark County history.

In just one day — Oct. 13, 2011 — 300 officers from 16 agencies arrested 49 people, seized 6,800 marijuana plants and raided 56 local sites.

This was all accomplished with no injuries reported during the quick-hitting operation and no children referred to Child Protective Services as a result of the raids. And it wasn't something thrown together on the fly. Operation Gang Green was the result of two years of intelligence work. It required a special mobile booking station and special court dockets arranged to process the parade of suspects. Other non-law enforcement agencies such as Clark Public Utilities also had to be brought into the operation, all under strict confidentiality standards.

Clark County would be a better place if Operation Gang Green were not necessary. But that's unrealistic, and Clark County definitely is a better place because the huge drug bust was so powerfully planned and executed.

Congratulations to the Clark-Vancouver Regional Drug Task Force for its continuing superb performances.