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Budget crisis may mean some drug crimes may not be prosecuted
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Manteca Police could within months start picking and choosing what drug cases to prosecute.

That’s because of the real possibility the state may start charging law enforcement agencies to have Department of Justice labs such as the one in Ripon to process evidence ranging from drugs and DNA to fingerprints.

“We simply may not be able to prosecute all drug cases if that happens,” noted Police Chief Dave Bricker.

A drug test for a small meth arrest, for example, could run several hundred dollars while a drug lab would require evidence processing in what Bricker described as “the tens of thousands of dollars.” Currently Manteca is not paying for any lab work that it sends to the Ripon crime lab.

Bricker said the department would without a doubt still process DNA in rape and murder cases as well as fingerprints in robberies. As for those who are arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence, a conviction requires the guilty party to reimburse lab tests which means they will still be processed.

Everything else may come down to a judgment call based on available resources and how much money the department has left in its budget at any given time.

Manteca and other jurisdictions are factoring in lab charges as part of a worst case scenario that many believe can happen as Gov. Jerry Brown is reportedly only half way to covering the projected $28 billion state deficit. Compounding matters for local departments is the state decision made already to divert money originally intended to be distributed back to local jurisdictions on a per capita basis to improve public safety. And while Manteca wasn’t counting on it, the austerity move at the federal level means Manteca - like other cites - have been told their applications for federal dollars for targeted law enforcement won’t be happening as the money has been stricken from the federal budget. Bricker said Manteca applied to beef up its anti-gang efforts.

Manteca is in the process of trying to get a handle on what have been projected as a $4 million municipal deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1 if current spending and revenue trends don’t change. City leaders have identified some cuts but a large gap remains. How it is closed will depend upon labor negotiations as all municipal bargaining units’ contracts that expire Dec. 31 of this year. Labor costs account for more than 80 percent of the general fund budget that pays for day-to-day municipal services such as police, fire, parks, and streets.

Manteca also has essentially used up all of the reserves that it can safely commit financially to covering budget gaps in the past three fiscal years.

Bricker said his department - including officers - are working hard to contain costs and to identify ways of trying to reduce future costs.