Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders joined County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar, other law enforcement officials and the COMBAT staff in conducting a series of community meetings to examine crime trends within the County, with an emphasis on the important role COMBAT (the Community Backed Anti-drug Tax) has played in making our communities safer.
MEETINGS HELD MAY 16 & 30
The County held two COMBAT Community Meetings May 16 -- one in Blue Springs and the other in Lee's Summit -- and two more May 30 -- to large audiences at both the Bruce R. Watkins Center in Kansas City and at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes World Headquarters. At those meetings, Sanders pointed out that since COMBAT was enacted in 1989 Jackson County has become a national role model for reducing drug use and drug-related crime. Jackson County became just the second county in the nation -- after Miami-Dade in Florida -- to begin operating a Drug Court from which non-violent offenders can "graduate" after receiving addiction treatment and other counseling -- all without suffering the stigma of a felony conviction. More than 95 percent of Jackson County's Drug Court graduates remain conviction free, stated new COMBAT Director Stacey Daniels-Young during the May 16 meetings.
"Our drug court is now a model for others all across the nation," said Sanders.
7,200 'DRUG PROPERTIES' SHUT DOWN
While COMBAT seeks to first prevent and then treat drug use, Kanatzar said the tax has given local law enforcement agencies the tools necessary to successfully combat drug crime. As a Chief Trial Assistant for Eastern Jackson County in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Kanatzar's duties included supervising the Drug Unit. He witnessed first-hand how COMBAT enabled the Prosecutor's Office, through COMBAT's funding of the Jackson County Drug Task Force, to significantly shut down production of methamphetamine in Jackson County. At a time when the County was known as the "methamphetamine capital of the world," Kanatzar said it was not uncommon for three or four meth cases a week to cross his desk, but today those who produce meth now view Jackson County as "too risky" a place to make their illegal and highly toxic product. COMBAT funds 14 assistant prosecuting attorneys in the Prosecutor's Office.
Since 1991, 7,200 "drug properties" in Jackson County have been shut down through COMBAT-funded Drug Abatement Response Team.
COMBAT funding allows smaller police forces to either hire personnel to handle drug cases or to pool resources through the Jackson County Drug Task Force, stated Scott Lyons, a major with the Lee's Summit Police Department. COMBAT also supports many police department's D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs. COMBAT, Sheriff Mike Sharp , said is the prime funding source for the Jackson County Sheriff's Junior Deputy program, which focuses on providing life lessons in area classrooms with a specific focus on issues related to the County.
Other law enforcement officers participating in the May 16 meetings were Sergeant Bob Harmon, who leads the Blue Springs Police Department D.A.R.E. program, and Independence Deputy Chief John Main.
Judge Susan Watkins oversees the Independence and Eastern Jackson County Youth Court. The COMBAT-funded court, she said, is operated with youth volunteers handling cases involving youth offenders. The court's goal is to give young offenders a second chance through treatment.
Others attending the May 16 meetings included State Representative Gary Dusenberg (District 54), Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross, Jackson County Legislators Theresa Garza-Ruiz (1st District At-Large) and Bob Spence (6th District), Jackson County Drug Commissioners Alvin Brooks, Tony Miller, Albert Riederer, Venessa Lopez and Colin Stoner.
The COMBAT Community Meetings also include providers of prevention and treatment agencies, as well as testimonials from recovering addicts treated through COMBAT-funded programs. Raising public awareness through meetings such as these was one of several key recommendations in the Report of the COMBAT Review Committee, issued in October of 2007, seven months after Sanders formed the committee to analyze the entire COMBAT program, from its historic origins to its effectiveness and accomplishment of goals. CLICK HERE to down the COMBAT Review Committee's report (PDF).
Daniels-Young stressed that raising awareness about the scope and effectiveness of COMBAT was among her chief goals as director. CLICK HERE for more information about her initial objectives as the COMBAT director.