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Task Force awarded funds for continued operations

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP
Staff Writer
The 21st Judicial Drug Task Force got a Christmas present straight from the governor's office this week that will help them fight drugs in Escambia County.
Governor Don Siegelman has awarded $210,000 to continue the battle against illegal use and distribution within the county. The governor notified Escambia County Commission Chairman Larry White that the grant had been approved to continue the operation of the 21st Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force. Local matching funds of $70,000 have been committed to the project by Escambia County.
Task Force Commander Keith Hutchins said the grant is a necessity for the agency.
Hutchins said the grant money is used to pay salaries, purchase equipment, office rent and many other operational expenses.
The task force is made up of four agents, a prosecutor and an administrative assistant.
Siegelman said the awarding of the grant should be viewed as a symbol of Alabama's determination to fight drug trafficking and drug abuse.
The 21st Judicial Drug Task Force is a combined effort of the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, the Escambia County District Attorney's Office and municipal police departments in Brewton, Atmore, East Brewton and Flomaton. The organizations join together to create a single multi-jurisdictional unit dedicated to the enforcement of controlled substances laws and the investigation of other drug-related crime in Escambia County.
Activities funded by the grant include investigation and prosecution of drug offenders who commit violent crimes, seizure of money and property used in drug-related crimes and surveillance of gangs who distribute crack cocaine, marijuana and other illegal drugs. The task force also works to increase training for law enforcement officers and to improve interaction with probation and parole officials.
Siegelman awarded the grant from funds made available to the state through a program of the U.S. Department of Justice. He has designated the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to administer the grant.