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Prosecutor’s office creates drug unit

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge officially established a special drug unit in his office this month to focus solely on the vast numbers of narcotic cases referred for potential prosecution.

Its implementation was made possible because the county commissioners late last year approved an additional $100,000 for the prosecutor’s budget.

Hauge is pleased with the fledgling drug unit and the support it’s been given, although its actual impact on law-enforcement procedures won’t be known for some time.

“We are very pleased with the support from the county commisisoners,” Hauge said.

Last fall’s 2002 budget planning sessions were fraught with tough decisions, according to officials.

The state’s slagging economy and voter approval of Initiative 747, which caps property tax increases to no more than 1 percent annually, made for a difficult session.

But Hauge made his case and the commissioners listened.

“We’re really concerned about meth and we’re definitely going to want to put resources into making meth an unwelcome activity in Kitsap County,” Kitsap County Commissioner Chris Endresen said.

Hauge blames the proliferation of methamphetamine, or meth — a highly addictive and destructive drug that’s cooked using household chemicals and common products — for the increase in drug case referrals to his office.

It’s Hauge’s hope to bring more drug-related cases to trial.

“So far, it’s gone real well,” Hauge said. “The unit has enhanced our liaison with local law enforcement because there are more lawyers officers can rely on now for assistance with investigations, and more time can be spent reviewing reports.”

Over the past four years, Hauge and Kitsap deputy prosecutors established, on average, a 76 percent charging rate on drug cases referred to the office.

While crime referrals to the prosecutors office has decreased by about 1 percent over the last few years, drug referrals have been on the rise.

In 1997, Kitsap County deputy prosecutors dealt with 808 drug cases.

That number jumped by 52 percent in 2000, with 1,231 drug cases requiring the attention of deputy prosecutors.

The budget allocation approved by the commissioners provides for the salary and benefits of an entry-level deputy prosecutor and a legal assistant.

The drug unit itself, however, consists of three deputy prosecutors, a legal assistant and the part-time equivalent of a civil deputy who specializes in asset forfeiture.

Hauge says he hopes his office in the coming months will have a better idea what impact the drug task force has had on the caseload, and that an annual review report should be issued as well in the next few weeks.

According to local law enforcement agencies the prosecutor’s drug unit, which operates much like the special assault unit, is good news.

“I commend him (Hauge) for it,” said Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer. “The unit should help with coordinating our efforts. We can find better ways to intervene with the distribution and get the users more help. It increases communication and coordination.”

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