Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement cuts affect local enforcement

FRESNO, Calif.

A raid in Merced and Madera counties last spring led to the arrests of more than one-hundred suspected gang members and took guns and drugs off the streets of several Valley cities. It was just one of the large scale operations organized by agents from the California Department of Justice.

But last week most of those agents were laid off.

"As a special agent in charge, I'm bitter, I'm upset. And in my family as a taxpayer, I'm mad. It doesn't make sense," said Senior Special Agent in Charge Ben Buford.

Buford says 73 agents from the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement (BNE) have been cut statewide, including 13 from the Fresno office. In the last two years alone, those agents helped arrest 322 suspected felons and seize 112 firearms plus more than 70 pounds of cocaine and methamphetamine across the Valley.

Buford says the loss of these specialized teams should concern local families. "If more meth hits the streets, you're going to have more burglaries, you're going to have more carjacks. It's going to be a different world out there."

The layoffs are the result of state budget cuts. Supporters argue other agencies can handle the work instead, and Governor Brown's office points out cities and counties were given an extra half billion dollars in unrestricted funding this year that can be used to hire more drug enforcement officers.

But Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse says that can't replace the BNE agents. "They have resources that local law enforcement agencies just don't have: the ability to do wire taps, to track the transpiration of narcotics from county to county, from state to state, and even internationally."

Morse says legislation that made it more difficult to buy drugs containing ephedrine in recent years has helped cut down on meth manufacturing in the Valley -- but it's still being brought across the border at alarming rates.

Earlier this month the Mexican Army found 15 tons of methamphetamine near Guadalajara, which could have supplied 13-million doses worth $4-billion in the U.S.

"The bad guys aren't as dumb as they look. The drug cartels are very clever at reacting to law enforcement and how we do business," said Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin.

Sheriff Pazin says his department must now find new ways to crack down on meth and the gang members who distribute it. But he and Morse admit it won't be easy. BNE agents spend months investigating each major case -- something local agencies don't have the time or money to do.

"We're going to continue to do our jobs, but we're frankly concerned this could really impact our ability to respond in the way we need to."

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