The designation announced last month will allow the county to receive federal resources to further the coordination and development of drug control efforts among federal, state and local law enforcement officers. Local agencies can also benefit from ongoing initiatives to reduce drug trafficking across the country.
“Drug trafficking is a national problem that has to be addressed on the local level, and adding these counties to the HIDTA program is a critical part of this effort,” said Richard Baum, Acting Director of National Drug Control Policy.
The San Benito County Sheriff’s Office in February was given the opportunity to submit a proposal for the drug enforcement initiative. While the opportunity was given to every county in the country, a new designation in Northern California was not anticipated.
San Benito County has long been attractive to transnational criminal organizations, authorities said. They said Mexican drug cartels and the illicit cannabis trade find the county attractive because of its remote, rural nature and limited resources. Major routes of distribution and major highways span the county and connect the state. Because of this, the White House named San Benito County one of 16 new initiatives in 13 states.
There are currently 28 High Density Trafficking Areas located in 49 states, as well as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia.
San Benito County is the only new initiative in California.
Besides San Benito County, other counties in the states of Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia were designated HIDTA.
“These new designations and the funding they will bring will help our federal, state and local law enforcement officers work together to disrupt and dismantle the trafficking networks that are bringing drugs into our communities,” Baum said.
The local initiative was taken on as a collaborative effort by Unified Narcotic Enforcement Team Task Force Commander Rich Westphal, Drug Enforcement Administration Resident Agent in Charge Mike Robinson, Deputy Director of Northern California HIDTA Karen Sherwood and Executive Director of Northern California HIDTA Mike Sena.
Historically, San Benito County was included in the South Bay Metro Initiative within the Northern California HIDTA. SB Metro includes southern Alameda County, Santa Clara County, Santa Cruz County and Monterey County. There was a time when the Gilroy and Morgan Hill Police Departments were part of the task force housed in San Benito County, chaired by the Sheriff’s Office and supervised by the California Department of Justice.
In 2014, Gilroy and Morgan Hill left task force to join the Santa Clara County Special Enforcement Team. This removed San Benito County’s connection to SB Metro as the task force no longer had Santa Clara County agencies attached to it.
Congress established the HIDTA program in 1988. Law enforcement organizations working within the designated areas assess drug-trafficking problems and design specific initiatives to decrease the production, transportation and distribution of drugs.