Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders tells the story of going out to a play one evening with his wife several years ago. He was the county prosecutor at the time and was interreupted seven times during the show to approve going for warrants to go after drug houses.

Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders tells the story of going out to a play one evening with his wife several years ago. He was the county prosecutor at the time and was interreupted seven times during the show to approve going for warrants to go after drug houses.

“That’s how dramatic it was,” he said.

Now, law-enforcement officials say, they have largely chased methamphetamine production out of the county, although it continues to come from rural areas and from places such as Mexico.

“Meth production in Jackson County is almost nil at this point,” said County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar.

They say those efforts as well as drug prevention and treatment and innovations such as Drug Court – all paid for through the county’s anti-drug tax – have helped the county actually see a decrease in crime crime, bucking the national trend.

“I know that things would be much, much worse today had we not had this tax,” Kanatzar said.

And to Sanders, it’s simple.

“You don’t have active (police) drug units” without the tax, he said.

Voters will decide on Tuesday whether to renew the quarter-cent tax – the Community Backed Anti-Drug Tax, or COMBAT – for another seven years. The county has collected the tax for 20 years, and voters last renewed it in 2003.

If COMBAT funds – about $19.9 million this year – can be thought of as a pie, they would fall into 10 differently sized slices.

Four are prevention and treatment: Drug Court, D.A.R.E., drug-prevention programs and drug treatment, 34.5 percent all together. Another slice, 10 percent, is matching money for outside grants, which can cover a variety of efforts.

That leaves 55.5 percent for law enforcement, the courts and corrections. It breaks down like this:

The Jackson County Drug Task Force, the Kansas City Police Department and the prosecutor’s office each get 9.5 percent of COMBAT funds. 12 percent for the Jackson County Circuit Court, to handle drug-related cases. Stephen Nixon, presiding judge in the 16th District, said 80 percent of the county’s court cases involve drugs in some way. 15 percent for corrections. In essence, that pays for two floors of the county jail, with about 260 prisoners. Officials point out that they are chronically short of jail space and that those who end up being held have committed or are charged with serious crimes.


“These are all dangerous people that are there,” Sanders said.

9.5 percent goes to the county prosecutor’s office, paying about one-third of that office’s costs. It covers the salaries of 44 of the 200 staffers, including 15 assistant prosecutors, the people who take cases to court.


“It would devastate my staff. It would devastate my office. It would be very difficult to address the safety issues of this community,” Kanatzar said.

Without the tax, officials said, there would be less for law enforcement overall, as other funds would have to be directed at drug-related crime, at the expense of crimes such as dometic violence.

“We either pay the tax or we have a serious setback in drug enforcement in Jackson County,” said County Legislator Henry Rizzo, D-Kansas City.



Drug enforcement

Sheriff Mike Sharp is emphatic about how important the COMBAT tax is.

“That’s my drug unit. ... If this tax were to fail, I’d have no drug unit,” Sharp said.

The Drug Task Force, based in Blue Springs, has 14 to 20 officers as a time, carrying out the bulk of anti-drug efforts outside Kansas City.

The officers come from area police departments. Blue Springs has three officers with the unit; Independence has four.

Although a city the size of Independence can afford some other undercover officers, some smaller communities have to have the task force to fight drugs, officials said.

“Without it, I don’t know what we’d do,” Sharp said.

Kansas City’s 9.5 percent share pays for about 24 officers.

COMBAT has also included programs such as DART – Drug Abatement Response Team – that came about in response to the crack cocaine epidemic of nearly two decades ago.

Neighbors would call the police to hit a drug house but the problem wouldn’t go away.

“These guys would bond out, go right back to the house and start selling drugs again,” Kanatzar said.

So officials came up with another idea: Take in a whole team – a housing code inspector, a fire marshall, a police officer.

Drug houses invariably have problems such as water and power being shut off. Tagging the homes as uninhabitable makes it a lot easier for the police to go back in and re-arrest the bad guys – and Kanatzar said word gets around the neighborhood quickly.

“We have DARTed and closed more than 13,000 houses,” Kanatzar said.