Dave Brooksher

Redwood Times

Sixty percent of the American population lives in a high-intensity drug trafficking area or HIDTA, according to www.whitehouse.gov. There are currently 28 HIDTA in 46 states, and they encompass 16% of all counties nationwide.

Last month Humboldt County was added to Northern California's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. That means more federal funding and an increased presence of federal law enforcement agencies, but Mendocino County sheriff Tom Allman said that it also facilitates information sharing between counties.

"It's not unusual for us to get a call from another HIDTA county that says ‘We're doing a large investigation and we think someone from Mendocino County is involved,'" Allman said. "We give them information."

Mendocino has been part of the NorCal HIDTA since 2011, when it was tapped to help conduct a major enforcement action known as Operation Full Court Press that focused on grows in and around the Mendocino National Forest and included more than 300 law enforcement personnel from 25 local, state, and federal agencies (see Redwood Times of August 17, 2011, second phase of marijuana operation concluded). Allman said that in his experience, HIDTA can help to coordinate law enforcement activities to avoid wasting time on parallel investigations.

"It allows increased networking with other agencies that may be involved in the same case. One of the biggest fears that a law enforcement agency has is doing a large investigation and not realizing that another agency is doing a parallel investigation on the same suspects. This can lead to horrible consequences," Allman said.

In Humboldt County, sheriff Downey is focused on using HIDTA to collaborate with federal agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Those partners will be contributing information, intelligence, equipment and even aircraft when called in on major investigations.

Downey also hopes to see greater transparency and an increased awareness of federal investigations being conducted within our local communities.

"This way we have more information sharing and we're not stepping on each other's toes. That's really one of the things I wanted to make sure of," Downey said, "that there's not federal investigations going on here that I'm unaware of."

"That's not good for the sheriff," he added, "and it's not good for the general public."

Downey said that HIDTA startup funding for the first year will amount to roughly $90,000. That money will be used to fund overtime and other expenses associated with investigating big cases. Early comments in local social media forums indicated that some Humboldt County residents hoped to see this funding applied towards busting methamphetamine operations.

"The idea for this funding is to deal with drugs on all levels. Not just marijuana," Downey said. "We are currently working cases with the DEA and other organizations that are not marijuana based. The other thing that's happening, too, is we're finding more and more marijuana related investigations are also turning up other drugs. Methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin from time to time. It kind of all interconnects at some point."

"Marijuana is the largest commodity in Humboldt County, so it is going to rise to the surface," Sheriff Downey added, "but we are targeting those other drugs, and this money will be used for all of those."