State drug agents thought they had a case. They accused Gov. Brown of cutting their department as part of political payback for endorsing his rival in the last election, but the judge did not buy it.
You do not hear about them much, but special agents within the California Department of Justice take on gangs and drug cartels daily, seizing heroin, marijuana, and other illegal drugs on the streets. But this Friday, almost the entire division is set to be laid off after losing a round in court to prevent the budget cuts.
At their height, they had more than 300 agents. At week's end, there will only be a few left. That leaves local law enforcement to fend for themselves with maybe some help from the feds. "Absolutely, we worry about it," said Larry Wallace at the Justice Department. "These agents were very specialized in what they do. They've been around for a long period of time and they've provided a service to citizens in the state of California that has been unparalleled."
The Brown administration says the cutbacks were avoidable. It urged republicans to go along with extending the temporary tax hikes last year to save vital programs, but the votes were not there."If the legislature chose not to extend certain temporary tax rates that were set to expire, then a number of programs were likely to go on the chopping block," said H.D. Palmer at the California Department of Finance.
The administration also points out that local cities and counties were given an extra $500 million in unrestricted funding this year and can use that to hire more drug enforcement agents.
Drug prevention groups are worried. Local cities and counties are already stretched thin and what does not get seized by drug agents will end up in schools and in communities. "I fear that there's going to be an explosion of drugs and once the issue is there, it's harder to get back under control," says Cynthia Siegel at Omni Youth Programs.
While some state field offices will have only a few agents left. San Jose, Orange, and Redding will be completely unmanned.