Local law enforcement officials say a cut in federal funding means the Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad and Gang Task Force will focus more on local cases and not on state and federal ones.
The cut means the FBI will now fund overtime, fuel and vehicle costs for three positions each for the Hall County Sheriff's Office and Gainesville Police. Before it had funded overtime, fuel and vehicle costs for 15 county positions and five for the city, FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett said. Local officials said there would be no layoffs due to the cuts.
"None of the investigators are losing their positions," said Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks, spokesman for the sheriff's office. "None of them are being assigned to positions outside of the work that they've been working on."
Wilbanks said the primary effect on the sheriff's office will be reimbursement for overtime, fuel and vehicle costs. And he said the current sheriff's office budget accounts for those issues.
Gainesville City Council members, though, expressed concern at their work session Thursday.
"The FBI has come in and said (the unit) has got to cut their numbers," Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett said.
Councilman Bob Hamrick said he had heard the unit was being disbanded.
"I'm concerned. I think this is one of the better organizations we've got," Hamrick said at the meeting.
The narcotics unit is primarily funded by the U.S. government under the federal designation of Safe Streets Task Force and has been operating since 1989. It comprises agencies from the Gainesville Police Department, the Hall County Sheriff's Office and the FBI.
The Gang Task Force began in 1997 and focuses on crimes related to gang activity. The force has been receiving federal funding for nearly its entire existence. In 2006 the MANS Unit also began receiving federal funding.
Authorities from both Gainesville and Hall County said the unit is not being disbanded.
"The unit has, in fact, not been disbanded," said Kevin Holbrook, public information officer for the Gainesville Police Department. "There was a cutback in federal funding, but there's not going to be a loss of manpower."
In the past, the unit has handled major offenses at the state and federal level as well as those on the local level. The officers have federal jurisdiction and can file federal charges, Holbrook said.
"They'll still handle the same stuff, but on a local level," Holbrook said of the situation now. "Those officers will still work hand-in-hand with the Safe Street Task Force officers if a case does need to go federal."
Authorities said the funding cuts won't have much of an impact on the units' investigations.
"They'll be doing different job functions, but they'll be doing the same process as far as doing the drug and narcotics investigations," said Joe Britte, also public information officer for the department.
"The sheriff's office wants to assure the public that its efforts in narcotics and gang investigations will continue as it always has, with only some logistical adjustments," Wilbanks said.
Staff writer Jeff Gill contributed to this report.