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AG's cuts less severe under new plan

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POSTED January 13, 2012 8:48 p.m.


 

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — The state attorney general's office will have less severe cuts than originally anticipated if lawmakers approve Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, allowing the Department of Justice to retain more than 100 agents who were facing layoffs and salvage some high-profile programs targeting illegal drugs and gangs.

Among the units to be saved is one that tracks prescription drugs and assisted investigations after the deaths of Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith and actor Corey Haim. It will be moved to a different office as part of a reorganization by Attorney General Kamala Harris that will combine two law enforcement divisions into a new Bureau of Investigations.

A statewide program started in 1983 that has destroyed millions of illegal marijuana plants also would be saved, thanks to an infusion of federal money. Another $6.5 million in surplus money from gun registration fees will bolster a separate program to keep firearms out of the hands of those who can no longer legally own them.

Harris' office had been facing an estimated $71 million in budget cuts over two fiscal years. Brown's proposed budget would restore nearly half the money Harris had expected to lose in the fiscal year that starts July 1. That is enough to keep 84 employees who otherwise would have lost their jobs, while another 27 would have their salaries paid by local governments.

Budget cuts still will lead to 91 agents losing their jobs next month. Harris' top law enforcement aide said in an interview this week that the department's crime-fighting efforts will suffer as a result.

"We believe that all of these cuts are a threat to public safety throughout the state of California," said Larry Wallace, chief of the attorney general's Division of Law Enforcement. "We're severely hampered right now."

Harris was able to avoid the wholesale elimination of many of her department's programs by closing or combining some offices to free up money, scraping for funding sources outside the state's general fund and persuading Brown's office to restore $16 million for her office.

"The money's been restored because we understand the programs are vitally important," Brown spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford said.

The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting was one of the programs slated for elimination, but the Office of National Drug Control Policy came up with $255,000 to fund three state employees who organize the annual crackdown on outdoor marijuana cultivation. The department describes CAMP as the nation's largest law enforcement task force, involving more than 110 local, state and federal agencies.

The program also relies on more than $2 million from other federal and state sources, the bulk of it from the federal government. CAMP has uprooted more than 21 million plants worth billions of dollars since it began.

The program targeting those who violate prescription drug laws would survive under the reorganization but no longer be overseen by the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.

The Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System, the nation's oldest prescription drug monitoring program, has been used to investigate the drug-related deaths of several celebrities. The online tracking system can be accessed by doctors, law enforcement officials and others to ensure patients are not abusing drugs.

While several programs are being saved, budget cuts have forced the department to end its involvement in half of California's 52 drug- and gang-fighting task forces. In some cases, local law enforcement agencies are continuing the cooperative efforts without the state's help.

Agents also will no longer participate in task forces that track sex offenders, and much of the department's efforts to gather intelligence on criminal gangs will end.

 

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