JEFFERSON CITY - Representatives of anti-methamphetamine task forces from around the state gathered in Jefferson City's Police Department Monday to celebrate the latest funding grant in the fight against what Gov. Mel Carnahan calls a "chemical killer."
The task forces, 24 total and spanning multiple jurisdictions, will receive breathing-air tanks, chemical-resistant garments and gloves, gas masks, meth detection kits and protective goggles, along with funds for portable forensic labs. Money will also go toward training for local law-enforcement officers who deal with the toxic and explosive chemicals found in meth labs.
"The chemical hazard potentially can be very damaging," said Sgt. Bryan Piester of the Columbia Police Department. No officers have been injured yet at meth-lab sites in Columbia, Piester said.
However, there could be long-term, even cancerous, effects of exposure to the chemical vapors found in meth labs, said Mike Sanders, the director of the MUSTANG task force, which is based in Jefferson City and covers Boone, Cole and Callaway counties.
"We've been negligent in not having our officers dressed properly," Sanders said.
The choice of equipment came from the task forces themselves.
"We asked the law-enforcement officers what they needed," said Gary B. Kempker, director of the state Public Safety Department, which purchased the equipment with state and federal Justice Department funds. "Two years ago we had officers going into labs with nothing more on than a T-shirt and bluejeans."
Total funds allocated in 1999 toward equipment and training for anti-methamphetamine enforcement are $1.3 million. The General Assembly approved this spending in a bill package last year, which also included provisions to increase penalties for meth trafficking, to expand treatment programs and to create drug courts.
Carnahan took credit at Monday's press conference for prompting the legislation.
"We made a strong commitment to providing our law-enforcement officials with the latest investigative and safety equipment and training that they need to catch these purveyors of poison and shut down the meth labs without endangering lives," he said.