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For Years Now, Upstate New York Has Received Special Resources & Federal Access, Along With Critical Funds, To Choke Off Drugs & Drug Trafficking Through Special Schumer-Backed Designation Called “HIDTA” – High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area 

But Under New Plan, The Office That Delivers Those Specific Fed Dollars And Provides Critical Resources To Upstate New York Would Essentially Be Dismembered, ‘Moved’ To A Place That Could Deprive New York Of Vital Support As Opioids Rage 

Schumer To Feds: Changing HIDTA Program Could Be A Deadly Mistake

On a conference call with reporters, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today slammed a recent administration proposal that could jeopardize the future of HIDTA (High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area), the federal drug-fighting program Upstate New York law enforcement agencies depend on to confront the mounting opioid crisis. Over the years, the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program has provided both millions of dollars and priceless direct federal support for Upstate New York’s intelligence-sharing and drug investigation initiatives. Schumer said the HIDTA program was created to promote efficiency across multiple law enforcement agencies, and that it works.

However, the administration’s recent budget proposal puts forth a plan that would essentially dismember the HIDTA office and move it from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), directly in the White House, to the Justice Department. This would create needless bureaucracy and inefficiency that could translate into less effective anti-opioid policies that put lives at risk in Upstate New York, especially in the midst of the opioid war locals are conducting. Schumer revealed this news and explained why this is bad for Upstate New York, and why local law enforcement from across New York agree we need to send a message to Washington to stop this plan.  

“There is no question that Upstate New York needs the partnership and resources from the federal HIDTA initiative, and they need it working in its current form. The proposal in the administration’s budget to shuffle the deck and bury the HIDTA office within the bowels of the Department of Justice, outside the direct purview of the White House, would be akin to putting New York’s law enforcement on hold when they make a call to the feds for real-time help,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “My message to the feds when it comes to HIDTAs Upstate, especially in the midst of the opioid scourge, is: if it ain’t broke, please don’t ‘fix’ it. Right now, the HIDTA funds Upstate localities receive are administered directly by the Office of National Drug Control – a direct extension of the White House. This allows law enforcement across the state to essentially circumvent DC bureaucracy in their efforts to choke off trafficking and combat the opioid war. Dismembering this office, for whatever the reason may be, will undermine Upstate New York law enforcement’s ability to push a coordinated enforcement strategy, and we just can’t let that happen. So, I am fighting to keep New York’s HIDTA unchanged and in place, as is. Its record of local success and support speaks for itself, and Upstate New York’s localities deserve the opportunity to continue having their voices heard.”

As it stands, the administration’s proposal to change New York’s HIDTA practices would begin by moving the oversight of the national $275 million dollar drug prevention program to the bowels of the Department of Justice, where many New York law enforcement officials fear their coordinated efforts to choke off drug trafficking, opioid usage, and dealing would be hampered. The plan could also change the type of federal support Upstate communities receive because trafficking grants would no longer be decided by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The federal dollars received by Upstate New York’s localities would instead totally bypass the White House’s National Drug Strategy and instead be subject to the decision making of an agency bureaucrat within the Department of Justice. Under this new initiative, the program administrators may not even talk to local law enforcement. Instead of the four corners of government coming together and combining federal, state, local law enforcement, and public health officials under one objective, this move would essentially silo our drug-fighting efforts and return us to the old way of agencies operating on different paths.

Schumer’s push to protect HIDTA is supported by numerous Upstate New York law enforcement officials.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares said, "We are all experiencing an opioid crisis where the death toll keeps rising. This is not the time to cut and move funding from initiatives like the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program. We stand with Senator Schumer and applaud him for stepping in to protect these assets.”

“Since the HIDTA program was created, it has been a vital aid to cities all around the Hudson Valley, especially here in the City of Newburgh. As we continue to fight this opioid epidemic, it is imperative that this resource continues to grow and help save lives. I would like to thank Senator Schumer for his longstanding leadership to keep HIDTA funding available,” said City of Newburgh Police Chief Doug Solomon.

“In the never-ending battle to control the flow of illegal drugs into Broome County, HIDTA funding plays an important role in providing the necessary resources and funding to assist our Broome County Narcotics Task Force and all other supporting local law enforcement agencies in their continued fight against the opioid epidemic,” said Broome County Sheriff David Harder.

 “New York State's parents are burying their children every day because of the illegal drug trade. Jefferson County is suffering through this drug epidemic, as is all of Upstate NY. Our community members and our law enforcement agencies must continue to be supported through this fight. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has come to depend on our partnership with HIDTA. The intelligence and data kept and provided by HIDTA is crucial to the work of our detectives and of the members of the Metro-Jefferson Narcotics Task Force. The odds are stacked against law enforcement already. Cutting any assistance will only hurt our community,” said Colleen M. O’Neill Jefferson County Sheriff.

"HITDA has been a crucial component in our battle against drug trafficking in New York State. Central and Upstate New York, like the rest of the country, is being ravaged by heroin, synthetic drugs, cocaine and methamphetamine. Syracuse sits at the cross roads of 2 interstate highways which are major routes that dealers use to distribute their poison from New York City to the rest of the state, up to the Canadian border and west to Buffalo. With state and local law enforcement funding decreasing every year, HIDTA provides us with the resources, manpower and intelligence to put a significant dent in this narcotics traffic.  It is hard to imagine the adverse impact its elimination would have on the entire state of New York, especially Upstate,” said Onondaga District Attorney William J. Fitzpatrick.

“HIDTA funding is critical to the law enforcement mission of protecting life, whether it be through enforcement efforts combatting the opioid epidemic, or keeping illegal drugs away from our children. Reducing or eliminating funding reduces our efforts and tools we have to fight these life altering elements,” said Orange County Sheriff Carl E. Dubois.

Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli said, “In Rochester and the surrounding counties we are seeing a precipitous increase in overdose deaths and drug-trafficking-related crime. Just recently, a multi-agency investigation brought down a violent drug ring that was trafficking in large quantities of heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine through the U.S. mail from overseas suppliers and selling it on our streets.  The Great Rochester Area Narcotics Enforcement Team, GRANET, is instrumental in breaking up local drug rings like these and relies on HIDTA funding and support.  It is clear that we need HIDTA more than ever to support our local GRANET team and to facilitate coordination between all levels of government to combat heroin and other drug trafficking in our region.”

“The opioid epidemic impacts the entire United States and right here in Rockland County. The notion of taking away any HIDTA funding used to fight the epidemic would be incomprehensible and irreplaceable. I would like to thank Senator Schumer for standing with the law enforcement community to fight for these vital funds,” said Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco III.

“Using every method possible to fight the opioid epidemic and the criminal enterprises which support it in effective and collaborative ways is essential to the safety or our communities. HIDTA funds help make this critical work possible. Federal funding for police departments and law enforcement agencies sharing intelligence across county and state lines to stop drug traffickers and ultimately save lives should not be at risk. Instead it should be available to save those at risk. We thank Sen. Schumer for his commitment to this program,” said Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr.

“Through the years HIDTA has remained and continues to be an essential program, which has always provided training and the most up to date methods to combat the illegal drug epidemic that plagues our country.  Our current opioid crisis is at an all-time high and there can be no breakdown in funding or communications between our law enforcement partners.  Through the years, HIDTA has funded essential technology, has placed Drug Intelligence Officers in Putnam County.  HIDTA supports all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies equally and strongly encourages all partners to work cohesively towards a common goal. Putnam County is actively fighting a war against opiates and has been ranked 16 out of 62 counties in the State of New York for opioid-related deaths.  HIDTA is an essential resource and it would be detrimental if funding was loss and only result in more lives being lost to the Opioid crisis which plagues our county.  I thank Senator Schumer for his outspoken leadership in working to keep critical HIDTA funding available,” said Putnam County Sheriff Robert L. Langley Jr.

Interim City of Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood stated, "The HIDTA program is a critical, timely and effective component of our City's coordinated approach to substance abuse and drug trafficking. We work closely with our federal, state, local and tribal drug task forces every day to reverse the damaging effects that opioids and other drugs have had on our community, we strongly believe that any interruption in funding could jeopardize vital intelligence-sharing and training initiatives, as well as life-saving resources, including drug-treatment initiatives such as our Narcan program. BPD's facial recognition and license plate readers are also coordinated through the HIDTA program. I thank Senator Charles Schumer for fighting tooth and nail to keep HIDTA fully functioning."

According to the New York Times, Chauncey Parker, the Director of the New York/New Jersey HIDTA, said, “In the middle of this huge epidemic, is now the time to start rearranging the deck chairs? O.N.D.C.P. are the experts and the professionals on this issue, and they’re the best ones from a holistic standpoint to be able to take a look at all of this.”

As of 2018, Upstate New York receives over $15,900,000 in funding for HIDTA, which is broken down in counties from different regions. Hudson Valley was one of the first regions to receive HIDTA funding, with $9,040,272 since 1994. Albany County, Onondaga County, Erie County, and Monroe County have received $3,450,000 in HIDTA funding since 2007. Jefferson County, Clinton County, and Franklin County have received $1,038,474 in HIDTA funding since 2009. Chautauqua County, Dutchess County, Putnam County, and Rockland County have received $1,100,000 in HIDTA funding since 2014. Lastly, Broome County, Ulster County, Niagara County, and Oneida County have received $1,350,000 in HIDTA funding since 2015.

Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 and the ONDCP Reauthorization Act of 2006, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is authorized to declare areas that exhibit serious drug trafficking problems as HIDTAs if local law enforcement groups petition for the designation. The purpose of HIDTA is to reduce drug trafficking and production in the United States. The program’s goal is to facilitate cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies; to share information and implement coordinated enforcement activities; to enhance intelligence sharing among law enforcement agencies as well as public health officials; to provide reliable law enforcement intelligence to law enforcement agencies to facilitate the design of effective enforcement strategies; and to support coordinated law enforcement strategies that make the most of available resources to reduce the supply of illegal drugs in the U.S. 

The New York/New Jersey HIDTA is one of 28 HIDTAs nationwide, which include approximately 16 percent of all counties in the United States and 60 percent of the U.S. population. There are currently 25 counties in New York that are part of the NY/NJ HIDTA, including the following Upstate Communities: Albany, Broome, Chautauqua, Clinton, Dutchess, Erie, Franklin, Jefferson, Monroe, , Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, St. Lawrence, Westchester, and Ulster. The HIDTA program provides $275 million annually. Since the 90s, Upstate New York has received nearly $16 million in special HIDTA funds and countless additional federal resources to assist with investigations and anti-trafficking initiatives.

Schumer pointed to several examples of how the ONDCP and NY/NJ HIDTA have been successful. For instance, in Buffalo “Operation Lockjaw” successfully intercepted one of the biggest drug trafficking rings in Western New York. Officials from the Buffalo Drug Enforcement Task Force found two residents named Troy Gillon and Darryl Williams were responsible for selling numerous illicit drugs including fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine throughout Western New York. The case also revealed connections to CPOT Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman-Lorea of the Sinaloa Cartel and eventually led to the arrest of Gillion and William’s Mexican source of supply in Brea, CA. Buffalo’s DEA also used HIDTA funding to support a new initiative called “Game Changers.” The program targets children living in neighborhoods with high rates of drug use and violence and exposes them to innovative leadership and classes that help participants build confidence, stay in school, and work on their team building skills.

Moreover, Schumer explained that the HIDTA program also funds the RX Crimes database, which tracks robberies, burglaries, attempted robberies and attempted burglaries of controlled prescription drugs from pharmacies, doctors’ offices and hospitals in New York and New Jersey.

Schumer said the HIDTA program helps counties address recent and disturbing upticks in heroin usage and drug-related crime by improving coordination among federal and local law enforcement agencies, as well as by providing equipment, technology, and additional resources to tackle this challenge. The HIDTA program funds intelligence-sharing initiatives, drug use prevention and drug treatment initiatives, as well as support for programs that provide additional assistance to law enforcement to perform in-depth investigations into drug overdoses and crimes. This has led to the arrest of drug dealers and the breaking up of major drug rings that bring fentanyl-laced heroin and other drugs into Upstate New York. HIDTA Drug Intelligence Officers (DIOs) in each area are constantly gathering and sharing information to assess drug trafficking patterns, as well as developing strategies to address the unique challenges in each region. The DIO also works with HIDTA officials in New York to arrange necessary funding for equipment and manpower, and coordinates initiatives between local, state, and federal law enforcement officials.

Schumer today warned that under the just-released administration budget, the HIDTA program would be moved from the ONDCP to the Justice Department. Schumer said that this move could jeopardize critical resources for New York State and deprive many Upstate Counties of vital support as the opioid epidemic rages. Schumer said the bureaucratic move makes no sense, as the Office of National Drug Control is made up of key experts in the field.