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Morro Bay joins a new county narcotics unit

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For the first time in seven years, the Morro Bay police will participate in a special task force outside their own department.

As part of the SLO County Sheriff’s Department’s new hybrid gang and narcotics task force, the department will have access to additional assistance in “long-term investigations,” according to Morro Bay Chief Tim Olivas.

On Jan. 24, the Morro Bay City Council voted 3-2 to pass two budget amendments to redistribute unanticipated funds. That decision freed up more than $10,000, which was allocated to the new task force for the remainder of the 2011-12 fiscal year. The City Council also moved some additional revenue to the city’s Recreation and Parks Sport Division.

Nobody seemed to dispute the Parks amendment, but a few council members were wary about joining the police task force.

“For years we weren’t part of this, and to me, the county misstepped, to put it lightly,” said Mayor Bill Yates, referring to the arrests of 12 medical marijuana providers in late December 2010. “I have no respect for the old Narcotics Task Force for the trauma that they brought to our county residents and their children.”

The county’s Narcotics Task Force (NTF) was shut down this year due to state budget cuts, which led to the local formation of a new local unit.

Yates wanted to wait for a year before considering joining the newly formed task force to “see their behavior.”

“Obviously I have strong feelings on this,” he added.

Councilwoman Carla Borchard, who was in favor of the new unit, called drugs “a huge problem in our schools.”

Seeing the council was split, Olivas explained the new unit’s distinction from the former NTF, which was run under the direction of a state Department of Justice commander—and paid for mainly by the state—until the DOJ’s budget was slashed in June 2011.

Olivas said the impact on his department from abstaining from the unit would outweigh the $10,000 price tag, and urged that the decision was “time sensitive.”

“If we do not join the county, I can tell you it will cripple us as an agency in our ability to do long-term investigations,” Olivas said. “I’m serious.”

Olivas later told New Times he expects the sheriff will run the unit with a new, “local perspective,” and that the membership means better access to help with the city’s own gang and narcotics enforcement efforts.

The money was derived from one-time savings and will cover half a year. However, there’s no word yet on how the cash-strapped city intends to maintain that access in the next fiscal year.

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