State is `front line' in war against meth
Law enforcement officials tell a congressional panel that more funds are needed for the fight.

By Raymond Smith © 2000
The Press-Enterprise, Riverside

Arguing the need for more resources, police told three members of Congress on Thursday that the nationwide battle against methamphetamine must focus at the source of the problem -- California.

"We are in a war on meth. That war is here and now and the front line is in Southern California," Riverside County Undersheriff Robert Doyle told the House of Representatives subcommittee on crime.

In 1999, authorities seized 5.9 tons of methamphetamine in Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and Los Angeles counties. Ed Manavian, who heads a multiagency drug-intelligence organization in Los Angeles County, said the four-county area accounted for 67 percent of the 2,183 clandestine methamphetamine labs found in California last year and 25 percent of all labs found nationwide.

For years, police in California worked to convince legislators about the danger of methamphetamine and the need for more resources. But many other parts of the country did not have a meth problem until the past few years and the warnings were not always heeded, Doyle said.

Now, police across the country say up to 80 percent of the methamphetamine in their cities comes from California or Mexico. On Thursday, witness after witness said more resources are needed to attack Mexican drug cartels that set up large labs in California and supply 90 percent of the methamphetamine in the United States.

Small labs are a problem in the Midwest and other regions, but large labs are found mostly in California, police said.

Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., said he did not know what he would do if he heard the phrase "ground zero" one more time.

The message "has been hammered home," Hutchinson said.

The hearing was a way to impress upon members of Congress the extent of California's problem, said Rep. Steve Kuykendall, R-Rancho Palos Verdes. California can make a strong case that it has the worst methamphetamine problem in the United States, Kuykendall said.

With that argument, he and other legislators from California will ask for a disproportionate share of the federal funds allotted for fighting meth, he said.

Police said they need more money for overtime, equipment and other resources to target major methamphetamine manufacturers.

But police and others acknowledged that money alone will not solve the problem. They also need education and prevention programs and treatment for drug addicts.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., lamented that the United States will continue to have one of the world's highest incarceration rates unless efforts focus more on education, treatment and prevention.

"The idea that we can rely on law enforcement to protect people from methamphetamine is overly optimistic," he said.

The hearing was one in a series of meetings on methamphetamine that continue today in San Diego and Monday in Albuquerque, N.M.