Despite losing federal dollars, ACET committed to maintaining operations

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The loss of a $92,000 federal grant means the All Crimes Enforcement Team won't be able to expand operations, task force commander Garrett Wiggins said.

However, Wiggins said ACET isn't going to allow the monetary loss to hinder operations.

"The bottom line is right here - we're maintaining," Wiggins said. "We're still here, and we're still up and running."

Wiggins presented an update Tuesday night to the Craig City Council about the current state of the task force, which operates in Moffat, Routt and Jackson counties. The presentation was similar to one Wiggins delivered to the Moffat County Commission in August, on the heels of learning about the discontinued grant money.

Wiggins said federal cutbacks called for the elimination of a Justice Administration Grant that ACET - and previous incarnations of it - had received for 13 years. The notification sent Wiggins into a cost-cutting mode, he said.

Losing the grant meant ACET could eliminate a financial manager position, a position that was used primarily to keep records and statistics necessary to receive the federal grant, thereby blunting some of the funding loss.

From there, Wiggins said he looked for other ways to reduce costs. All told, he was able to reduce the budget by about 30 percent.

"Anywhere I could sharpen the pencil, I sharpened the pencil," he said. "I trimmed some costs to a level where we can still maintain operations at the level we are now."

Support from area automobile dealerships, which have contributed about $18,000 in donations to the task force, and free office space from the city of Hayden, equaling savings to the tune of about $20,000, also reduced the negative impacts of losing the federal money, Wiggins said.

As of now, ACET will not be asking any of the agencies that provide funding to increase contributions, Wiggins said.

Moffat County and the cities of Craig and Steamboat Springs contribute money and personnel to ACET, the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office and the Jackson County Sheriff's Office contribute money and Hayden donates through free office space.

"We're not asking them to make any additional contributions other than what they normally do," Wiggins said.

He added that each of the contributors is "still committed to keeping the task force going at this time."

Wiggins also presented the council with information about investigations and seizures the task force has made since it changed names in May 2007 from the Greater Routt and Moffat Narcotic Enforcement Team.

Since the name change, ACET has conducted 58 felony investigations, most of them focusing on drug distribution, Wiggins said. The task force has seized drugs - methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, LSD, ecstasy and prescription pills - valued between $174,000 and $350,000.

ACET also has branched out to conducting investigations, or assisting investigations, into criminal matters other than drugs, including sexual assault, child abuse, homicide, suicide and fraud, the task force commander said.

"We've conducted just about every investigation you can imagine," said Wiggins, one of three officers who comprise ACET.

More than three quarters of its felony investigations, 46 of the 58, or 79 percent, were worked in Moffat County, he said. The remaining 12 were in Routt County.

The City Council agreed after Wiggins' presentation that drugs and their distribution are primary concerns for Craig and Moffat County. Craig Police Department Chief Walt Vanatta supported the council's view.

"Almost every stop we make anymore, you find some sort of drug paraphernalia," Vanatta said.

Councilors wanted to know what the answer might be.

"What do we need to do in our community to start eradicating meth?" Councilor Gene Bilodeau asked.

Any solution is going to take more than law enforcement working by itself, Wiggins said.

"I think it's going to take community involvement," he said. "We try to be proactive and we try to inhibit crimes before they happen, but without the help from the community, it's going to be a hard fight."

Wiggins added that since his organization has become more public with its investigations, many more residents have called in tips and other assistance. He said he could not thank those community members enough.

The city must remain active and support ACET's efforts, as well, Mayor Don Jones said, even in the face of problems that seem to never end.

"I think you have made a difference," Jones said to Wiggins. "As a city, we need to continue to support you along with (Communities Overcoming Meth Abuse) and everything else. We're all trying."

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