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From last week’s Wall Street Journal:

Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko, his budget under pressure in a weak economy, has laid off staff, reduced patrols and even released jail inmates. But there’s one mission on which he’s spending more than in recent years: pot busts.

The reason is simple: If he steps up his pursuit of marijuana growers, his department is eligible for roughly half a million dollars a year in federal anti-drug funding, helping save some jobs. The majority of the funding would have to be used to fight pot. Marijuana may not be the county’s most pressing crime problem, the sheriff says, but “it’s where the money is.”


Even so, in California, budget realities mean federal money ends up supporting priorities sometimes out of sync with public sentiment. About 56% of California residents support full legalization of marijuana, polling shows. The issue will be on this fall’s ballot as a voter initiative.

Tight budgets prompted sheriffs’ departments in the state to cut more than 800 positions in the first three months of this year, out of about 30,000. Support for local law enforcement from the strapped state government will fall by $100 million this year, the California Association of Counties expects.

Shasta County supervisors told Sheriff Bosenko last spring that his budget this year would be about $2 million less than last year’s $38 million.

The sheriff laid off 26 people last July, more than 10% of his staff, among them 11 deputies. He eliminated a major-crimes investigator and cut nighttime patrols to two cars from four.

That slowed responses to emergencies, especially after midnight, when an estimated 20% of drivers in the largely rural county 150 miles north of Sacramento have been drinking. The county has higher rates of assault, burglary, drunken driving and domestic violence than big California cities.

To save still more, Mr. Bosenko closed a floor of the county jail and gave early release to 185 inmates, among them 30 convicted drunk drivers. “Those people will probably go out and drink and drive again and hurt people,” the sheriff says. “The criminals know that there’s very limited offender accountability due to our releases at the jail.”

The federal funding detailed in this article consists of COPS grants and Byrne grants administered by the Department of Justice. Some of these funds come from federal appropriations, and some of it comes from federal asset forfeitures. To request these funds, some police departments have to provide a percentage of the grant in matching funds; often this matching percentage is forfeiture money, obtained through the sale of property seizures and diverted from state education or healthcare funds.

In other words citizens no longer have the ability to set the priorities of their law enforcement agencies, and federal money drives the incarceration of millions of non-violent offenders at the expense of literally everyone else.

Hat Tip: Dan Viets

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