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UTAH OFFICIALS SAY TURF BATTLES WOULD DOOM A DRUG CZAR

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Officials from different law enforcement agencies admit they sometimes investigate the same cases and unwittingly buy drugs from each other's undercover agents, but few believe a Utah "drug czar" could solve the problem.

Most members of the state's newly formed Drug Task Force said Monday things could only get worse if one person were given statewide authority over drug law enforcement.They cited jealousies, turf battles and the independence of the state's 29 sheriffs and county attorneys and its myriad police chiefs as some of the reasons.

"I have a feeling that the jealousies may be more difficult to deal with than the drug problem," said Charles Bates, the only independent task force member, who was elected chairman.

"If we decide to have a drug czar, I say God bless him because he's going to have a tough job," said Salt Lake Police Chief Michael Chabries, one of the 18 members of the task force.

The Legislature's Health Interim Committee established the task force to decide whether Utah should follow the example of the federal government, which, through President Bush, recently appointed William Bennett to coordinate drug programs nationwide. (Special operation snares 456 drug fugitives in eight weeks; see A3.)

Chabries said drug enforcement should be a local issue.

"If we don't have an effort like this in every community, we're not going to solve anything," he said. "Law enforcement problems are tackled by neighborhoods."

Doug Brodrero, the state's commissioner of public safety, said some programs are too big to be handled locally. Drug dealers, particularly in the Salt Lake area, sell in many different communities and often are pursued by many agencies at once. Still, he agrees a Utah drug czar probably would fail. Each agency is afraid of losing money and jobs.

"Coordination is a nice word, but saying it's desirable and making it happen are as different as night and day," he said.

A mood of frustration dominated the meeting, the first of several intended to result in a package of proposed laws at the next Legislative session. If nothing else, the task force members hope to find ways of helping agencies communicate with each other.

"Right now I believe we're losing the war," said House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy, another task force member. "We've seen for years things going progressively downhill. I fear what's happening to each of our families and our children. I don't have the answer, and I guess that's the most frustrating thing of all."