Calif. narcotics team at risk in budget crisis |

Calif. narcotics team at risk in budget crisis

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California’s budget woes could cut a third of the agents from a little-known unit that has played a key role in high-profile cases like Anna Nicole Smith’s overdose death and the arrest of murderer Scott Peterson.

State budget negotiators have proposed cutting $20 million from the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, on top of $12 million in previous cuts from the bureau.

Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat whose department oversees the narcotics bureau, said the cuts would lead to layoffs for nearly a third of its 187 agents.

“It’s a terrible budgetary decision,” Brown said. “The Bureau of Narcotics enforcement has some of the best-trained agents in the world that are going after drug cartels, that are providing assistance to local law enforcement agencies.”

But Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, said lawmakers have little choice. The state faces a projected $24.3 billion budget deficit and already is making billions of dollars in cuts to education, health care, welfare and other social programs.

The proposed cuts are contained in the Democratic budget plan being considered by the Legislature.

Democratic leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger disagree over how to close the budget gap. They met Saturday at the Capitol but left the closed-door meeting without any agreement.

The bureau was created during Prohibition, in 1927, predating the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration by nearly half a century. In recent years, its focus has been on stamping out large-scale methamphetamine and marijuana operations.

Brown said the layoffs would severely hamper, if not eliminate, 51 multi-agency task forces operating throughout California. Those task forces – which the bureau coordinates – track down marijuana plantations often operated by Mexican drug cartels in forests and national parks, and major methamphetamine operations in the Central Valley that provide much of the nation’s supply.

Ducheny said the state may be able to make up for the funding cuts with federal drug enforcement money. But the attorney general’s office is skeptical that such funding can be diverted, spokesman Scott Gerber said.