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Feds discontinue program that gave Forsyth some $700K in drug seizure funding
The Forsyth County Sheriffs Office has used money it received from the Equitable Sharing Program to buy automated external defibrillators for patrol cars and narcotics surveillance equipment. Some of the money also went to purchase Narcan, an anti-overdose drug that can quickly reverse the effect of a heroin or opioid overdose. The U.S. Department of Justice announced late last year it would be discontinuing the funding effort. - photo by FCN file photo

FORSYTH COUNTY — The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office is no longer receiving hundreds of thousands of federal dollars after the U.S. Department of Justice announced late last year it would be discontinuing a funding effort.

The Equitable Sharing Program provided local law enforcement agencies with money seized in drug investigations in exchange for their deputies serving on federal anti-drug and terrorism task forces.

Critics of the program, including congressmen from both sides of the political aisle, say it is “policing for profit” that allows personal assets to be seized without an arrest or charge.

Law enforcement agencies say they have benefitted from the funding and from the knowledge and training deputies gain working with federal task forces.

“It’s a useful program. The money can be used for training for deputies, buying equipment and is heavily used for drug education and prevention programs,” said Forsyth County Sheriff Duane Piper.

No matter the opinion, the exchange has increased funding to agencies.

“Those funds can’t be used for anything that is normally budgeted, so it’s supplemental funds,” Piper said. “It can’t be used for salaries for deputies … it can’t fund school resource officers. That would be illegal.”

What the local sheriff’s office bought with the funding has included automated external defibrillators for patrol cars, which Piper said deputies have used to save two lives so far.

The local agency also purchased narcotics surveillance equipment and Narcan, an anti-overdose drug that can immediately reverse the effect of a heroin or opioid overdose.

According to the Department of Justice, 147 Georgia agencies received a total of about $22.7 million in 2014. Of that, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office received more than $700,000, the ninth most in the state.

The Atlanta Police Department received the most, at just more than $2 million. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and DeKalb County and Cartersville police departments all received more than $1 million.

“We still have a considerable amount left over from the last couple of years,” Piper said. “If it never started back up, the money we have already been awarded will last for another several years to do the same programs we are running.

“It’s not a deal breaker … It won’t change the way we do business. If we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t budget for it.”

The program was discontinued after Congress took $1.2 billion in permanent reductions, or rescission. The Department of Justice has said it would reinstate the program if funding becomes available.

Regardless of whether that happens, Piper said he does not intend to pull his deputies who are currently serving in federal task forces. Those include a Drug Enforcement Administration and a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas task force.

“They’ll be on them for the foreseeable future [because of] the value they bring to us by working for federal agencies,” he said. “They go all the way to the border to find out about drugs coming to this part of the United States, and they have access to information about trends, so it helps on a local level.”