FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 24, 2009
SCHUMER MEETS WITH DRUG CZAR NOMINEE; CALLS ON HIM TO EXPAND HIGH INTENSITY DRUG TRAFFICKING AREA DESIGNATION TO CLINTON, FRANKLIN, JEFFERSON AND ST. LAWRENCE COUNTIES
Today Senator Charles E. Schumer met with Seattle Police Chief and President Obama’s Nominee to be the new Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (“ONDCP”), or “Drug Czar,” Gil Kerlikowske, and advocated for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (“HIDTA”) designation to be extended to four northern border counties – Clinton, Franklin, Jefferson, and St. Lawrence. This designation would provide much needed federal resources, increase communication between state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies and help to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking and money laundering statewide. Kerlikowske assured Schumer at the meeting that, as the former head of the Buffalo Police Department, he remained concerned about drug issues in New York.
Schumer has long been a supporter of the HIDTA program. In September Schumer, Congressman John McHugh, and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton wrote to the then-Drug Czar, John P. Walters, expressing support for inclusion of the four counties. Previously, Schumer was a champion of expanding the HIDTA designation to Onondaga, Albany, Erie and Monroe Counties. He is now pushing for the designation to be expanded to Clinton, Franklin, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties. The Drug Czar’s office has final say over whether an application to expand a HIDTA is granted.
“I remember Chief Kerlikowske from his days in the 1990s as the head of the Buffalo police department,” Schumer said. “I’ll be proud to support him for Drug Czar. But one of his first tasks when he takes the job should be protecting New York’s citizens by giving HIDTA designation to Clinton, Franklin, Jefferson, and St. Lawrence Counties.”
The mission of the HIDTA program is to disrupt the market for illegal drugs in the United States by assisting federal, state, and local law enforcement entities to dismantle and disrupt drug trafficking organizations – with an emphasis on drug trafficking regions that have harmful effects on other parts of the United States.
The New York/New Jersey HIDTA program, with its main offices in Manhattan, currently encompasses 17 counties located throughout New York and northeastern New Jersey. The New York portion of the region consists of the five boroughs of New York City (Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island), the two outer counties of Long Island (Nassau and Suffolk), Westchester County, and four upstate counties that were added in 2007: Albany, Erie, Monroe, and Onondaga. The New Jersey portion consists of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Passaic, and Union Counties. The New York/New Jersey HIDTA is led by an Executive Board consisting of 24 federal, state, and local law enforcement leaders, and has partnerships with over 100 federal, state, local, and non-government agencies within the New York metropolitan area and beyond.
A HIDTA is regarded as a coordinating umbrella for federal, state and local agencies. The goal of the HIDTA program is to enhance integration and invest in partnerships between federal, state, and local agencies, while eliminating unnecessary overlap and duplication of efforts. Once ONDCP designates a region as a HIDTA, it can receive federal money to help local law enforcement clamp down on illegal drugs transported through those counties. The Executive Board then allocates funding in order to fight drug trafficking most effectively.
Senator Schumer was a strong supporter of expanding the existing HIDTA to include Onondaga, Albany, Erie and Monroe Counties, and wrote at the time to ONDCP, urging action. The addition of the four counties in 2007 has played a significant role in facilitating communication between state, local and federal law enforcement agencies, and in disrupting and dismantling drug trafficking and money laundering organizations in the region. Already, HIDTA funds have been used to hire full-time drug intelligence officers, and money has been set aside for state, local, and federal task forces.
Smugglers increasingly take advantage of the North Country’s transportation networks to move Canadian hydroponic marijuana into the United States through the four counties. The marijuana is then transported downstate to Syracuse and Albany, where it is sold to drug traffickers, often from New York City, who further distribute it throughout the nation. Cocaine and heroin also pose significant threats to the New York/New Jersey HIDTA region.
The North Country's geographic attributes and transportation infrastructure create conditions conducive for drug smuggling. Clinton, Franklin, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties feature 16 points of entry to the United States, three of which are within the top ten most used points of entry on the United States northern border. In addition, the counties are home to 17 airports, including international airports in Watertown, Plattsburgh, Ogdensburg, and Massena. Three of the counties border the St. Lawrence River, which provides international shipping access to much of the United States via the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System. In addition, the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation straddles the United States/Canada border in Franklin County. Last October, the New York/New Jersey HIDTA filed an application to expand up to Clinton, Franklin, Jefferson, and St. Lawrence Counties with the Drug Czar’s office. That application is pending, and will likely be waiting for Chief Kerlikowske when he arrives on the job.
Since 1990, 28 regions in the United States, comprising 14% of U.S. counties, have been designated as HIDTAs.