COMBAT History Part 2
Getting Started: The Beginning Of DART & Drug Court

“If a person is committing petty crimes because of drug habits, what have you accomplished by locking them up in prison? Probably very little, and you’re probably behind where you were to start with when they get out.”
— Peggy McGarry, U.S. Department of Justice 1990 Alternative Sentencing Symposium1

Within 2½ years of Jackson County’s Anti-Drug Tax being activated, 3,000 people who otherwise would have likely not gotten help receive drug abuse treatment. Overall, though, the county’s fledgling anti-drug program experiences growing pains. While the tax pumps more resources into law enforcement, calls for more prevention and treatment programs grow louder.

“During this period, there was considerable uncertainty about how to spend prevention and treatment funds,” the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) reports.2

For example, several hundred thousand dollars were spent on improving the security of some Family Court juvenile residences. A deferred prosecution program was floundering. In addition, the three COMBAT components—prevention, treatment, and the criminal justice system—were not engaged in serious collaboration.3

Meanwhile, the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office experiences a significant increase in its drug-related caseload. As he opts not to seek re-election in 1992, County Prosecutor Albert Riederer stresses, “It’s not putting people in jail that solves the problem.”4

With1992 nearing an end, Jackson County Circuit Court judges and Riederer’s successor, Prosecutor-elect Claire McCaskill, believe they have found a possible alternative to the “floundering” deferred prosecution program. They urge the county to at least “experiment” with establishing a “drug court.” 

The court would be the third of its kind in the nation and be modeled after the first, established in Dade County (Miami), Florida in 1988. (The second “drug court” in the country was started in 1991 in Oakland, California.)

Jackson County Circuit Judge Donald L. Mason volunteers to preside over the proposed court, which will provide non-violent drug users treatment and an opportunity to start their lives anew—with their original charges being expunged.

Judge Mason cites the need for an alternative to imprisoning those addicted to drugs: “I just had a sentencing on a woman—she’s 22. Ever since she was 13 she’s been on crack, and she’s getting ready to deliver her seventh child. At least two have been crack babies. I don’t know that five years in the penitentiary is going to cure either of those ills.”5



Less than 24 hours after the polls closed—and 63% of Jackson County voters approved a new anti-drug tax—Jackson County Prosecutor Albert Riederer vows to oppose any proposals that would use the new revenue source to fill gaps in the prosecutor’s and sheriff’s regular operating budgets.

“The voters of this county want this money to be used for things not being done today,” Riederer declares, “and that is what I will fight for.”6 


Readers of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch get to learn all about the local revenue source that soon will help their neighbors on the opposite of the state address drug abuse and drug-related crime. In an op-ed for the paper, Tom Bodgon, a Kansas City Citizens Against Drugs volunteer, describes how Jackson Countians “have taken matters into their own hands” by passing a sales tax that could serve as a trailblazer for “a drug-sodden nation beyond the heart of America.”7


 All prevention and treatment programs funded through Jackson County’s new anti-drug sales tax should be coordinated into a cohesive, unified effort, according to a draft proposal presented at a meeting of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime.

Jim Nunnelly, Kansas City Housing Authority chairman and the Samuel U. Rodgers Community Health Clinic chief administrator, also recommends an advisory council be formed to review treatment outcomes and to monitor every program’s effectiveness.8


“I’d like to be able to say a year from now that we got the best advice we could to run a top-flight, professional program and that we’re starting to see some effectiveness.”
 Jackson County “Drug Czar” John Kelley (April 1990)9



 “Justice without jails” is an “idea whose time has come,” states Prosecutor Albert Riederer as he and other county officials explore options to provide drug users treatment as an alternative to jailing them.

After attending a U.S. Department of Justice symposium about sentencing alternatives, Jackson County Legislative Chairman James Tindall and Circuit Court Judge Lee E. Wells both back implementing alternative programs in the county.10


The new Jackson County anti-drug tax takes effect as collection of the quarter-cent sales tax begins.


John Kelley doesn’t care for the title of “drug czar” as Jackson County Prosecutor Albert Riederer appoints him to oversee the county’s new anti-drug initiative. According to The Kansas City Star, Kelley believes being called “czar” is misleading—that it “implies imperiousness and absolute authority and sounds as if one person can do everything.”
“If there’s any program that needs broad participation,” Kelley explains, “it’s this one.”11


While Jackson County attempts to develop a concrete, cohesive strategy, other local governments begin to take creative approaches to addressing drug crime and abuse—from  adding a $1 surcharge to all traffic tickets in Meridian, Mississippi, to Allentown, Pennsylvania, drawing criticism for an ordinance allowing police to arrest any motorist cruising past the same location more than twice in an hour.

These various ideas are a primary topic of discussion during the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ fourth annual National Conference on Crime and Drugs.12


The ongoing debate about how best to utilize funds from the new Jackson County anti-drug tax leads to a suggestion to divert youthful drug dealers and users off the path they are on—a path likely leading to either long-term incarceration or death.

Larry Myers, an administrator for the Jackson County Juvenile Court, pitches the idea to begin placing youthful offenders in a specialized treatment program. He requests $686,000 to launch the program, with the funding to go toward drug testing juveniles in the court system to determine which ones need treatment. He believes the proposed program will be the first of its kind in the nation.

Juvenile Court Judge H. Michael Coburgn agrees: “We will be breaking new ground.”13


Mark A.R. Kleiman helped wage the “War on Drugs” while serving in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. The former drug policy analyst with the U.S. Justice Department now believes federal policies to stop the flow of drugs into the nation have failed. He points out cocaine is more accessible than ever before. The street price for the drug has dropped from $800 a gram to only $100.
Kleiman, a fellow at Harvard University, believes the fight to stem drug abuse and drug-related crime can only be effectively waged through local initiatives—such as those efforts that will be funded through the Jackson County anti-drug tax.14


The scope of the local drug problem comes into focus with the release of a consultant’s report—Drug Abuse In Jackson County, Missouri—prepared for the County Prosecutor: Residents in the county are spending approximately a quarter-billion dollars annually to obtain cocaine, with as many as 25,000 being frequent users of the drug.

The BOTEC Analysis report’s findings include:

  • Users come from all walks of life, though they are more likely to be white than black, younger than 35 and to be employed. 
  • “Crack houses” are more likely to be inside ordinary residences rather than abandoned buildings or homes.
  • Both drug dealers and those buying drugs are likely to be armed when an illegal drug purchase is being made. The report quotes a sign found in one crack house: “Do not talk. Drop $ and get out. Ain’t nothing here worth dying for.”

“Emergency rooms and treatment centers strain to meet the demands placed on them by abusers seeking treatment, those suffering overdoses, and the victims of drug shootouts,” writes the BOTEC analysts.15


“It’s not putting people in jail that solves the problem. It’s clear in the struggle against illegal drugs we have to do something different.”          — Jackson County Prosecutor Albert Riederer (September 4, 1991)16



NEWS House For Battered Women, a Northeast Kansas City shelter, announces it’ll be hiring two full-time substance abuse counselors as part of its new treatment program being funded through a grant from the Jackson County anti-drug tax. Abuse victims who are also drug addicts have special needs conventional treatment programs are ill-equipped to meet, NEWS House Director of Development Julie Kurth points out: “It’s very important that the battered woman gets special treatment by people who know what she’s going through.”17

About 60% of the women at the shelter have a drug or alcohol addiction. Because 85% of their abusers are addicts the women may have started taking drugs to avoid confrontations.

MONDAY, JULY 22, 1991

Since the first of the year, 600 adults and 144 children have received medical assistance and/or drug counseling funded through the Jackson County anti-drug tax. County Prosecutor Albert Riederer and members of the Anti-Drug Sales Tax Fiscal Commission acknowledge that progress getting more treatment programs operating has been painstaking since the tax took affect April 1, 1990.

Recent funding has been provided to the Guadalupe Center ($117,925) to begin a bilingual treatment program and to Children’s Mercy Hospital ($32,800) for a three-year study monitoring the long-term condition of babies whose mothers used crack while pregnant.18

TUESDAY, JULY 23, 1991

The Jackson County Juvenile Court has renovated and fully staffed a 20-bed residential treatment facility in Independence, using money allotted to the court from the county’s anti-drug tax. Of the tax, Circuit Court Judge John R. O’Malley says, “It’s giving us some resources to work with these harder core kids in a way we haven’t worked with them before.”19


The Jackson County Anti-Drug Fiscal Commission recommends that the County Legislature approve $1.9 million in drug treatment grants to 14 different non-profit providers.20


Locking up more drug users won’t win the “War on Drugs,” Jackson County Prosecutor Albert Riederer tells about 80 attendees at the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s “Good Morning! Kansas City” breakfast. Therefore, a key component of the county’s anti-drug tax must be funding additional treatment and prevention programs.

Chamber Chairman Bert Bates observes that the county is the first in the nation to approve an anti-drug tax and to begin developing a comprehensive anti-drug strategy. He urges patience among the tax’s critics as the county tries to implement its prevention, treatment and enforcement policies.

The next day at the Genesis School in Kansas City Riederer addresses representatives from more than two dozen community organizations awarded anti-drug tax funding. He repeats his message that focusing on more rigid law enforcement and only enforcement won’t solve the community’s drug problem. He instead stresses “offering youths viable alternatives to drug use and crime.”21


“It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Jackson County Deferred Prosecution Participant (September 1992)22



The Jackson County anti-drug tax had no more vocal supporter than Prosecutor Albert Riederer. In announcing he won’t seek re-election, Riederer expresses optimism programs funded through the tax will be successful: “All in all, I think it’s something that has gone well. You can’t see the progress yet in statistics but there are a lot of people [on probation or in prevention programs] now getting treatment who wouldn’t be.”23


A deferred prosecution program offering first-time drug possession offenders an alternative to jail is struggling to gain traction. Rather than entering the year-long treatment program that if successfully completed would leave them with no criminal record, most offenders are opting to take the chances a judge will only sentence them to probation.

“People should know by now you can’t stop drugs by having more police and locking people up,” defense attorney James L. McMullin says. “This is all an exercise in futility.”

County Prosecutor Albert Riederer counters that “judges are too lenient” and are hampering efforts to get these first-time offenders to accept a treatment alternative.24

MONDAY, MAY 18, 1992

The effort to close drug houses in Jackson County has received a significant boost from the anti-drug tax. The county’s Drug Abatement Response Team (DART), launched in November of 1990, enlists police as well as housing and fire inspectors to check properties involved in drug activity for code violations. Through the first quarter of ’92, DART’s work has resulted in 50 evictions and 10 drug house closing.

DART’s team members address the County Legislature, reporting that they’ll board up properties and, if drug dealers return to the property, arrest them for trespassing.25


Through the two years and five months since the Jackson County anti-drug tax took effect, more than 3,000 people have received treatment who otherwise likely would have not gotten help. County officials are aware individuals may need several rounds of treatment before going into long-term recovery and that will make the long-term success of tax-funded programs difficult to track.

One woman who has entered the county’s deferred prosecution program, after being arrested for forging a pain medication prescription, calls entering the year-long counseling program “the best thing that ever happened to me.”26


Claire McCaskill is elected Jackson County Prosecutor, after her campaign centered around how best to utilize the $14 million in annual revenue generated by the anti-drug tax. The week before voters went to the polls, she points out reaching a consensus about how best to spend the money may not be possible: “It’s time to evaluate whether we are putting enough in treatment, or is it too much? Should we put more into a deferral program for offenders? No matter where you change, somebody is going to scream.”27


There’s got to be a better way. Jackson County judges and prosecutor-elect Claire McCaskill want to at least experiment with implementing a deferred prosecution program modeled after Dade County, Florida’s first-in-the-nation “drug court.”

Judge Stanley Goldstein started the specialized court in Dade County in the late 1980s, offering to permanently dismiss charges against drug users if they completed a year of treatment and counseling. More than 90 percent of participants who successfully complete the program have remained drug- and crime-free.

Judge Goldstein tells Jackson County judges he can be stern in overseeing the drug court, jailing those who don’t stay off drugs.

“I bounce them back and forth in jail,” he tells the judges during a November visit to Kansas City. “I won’t let them fail…. You don’t want them to get used to jail, to think it isn’t such a bad place.”

Judge Donald L. Mason volunteers to try Goldstein’s approach in Jackson County, saying, “I just had a sentencing on a woman—she’s 22. Ever since she was 13 she’s been on crack, and she’s getting ready to deliver her seventh child. At least two have been crack babies. I don’t know that five years in the penitentiary is going to cure either of those ills.”28

1 The Kansas City Star January 29, 1990

2  National Institute of Justice Report: Jackson County, Missouri, COMmunity Backed Anti-Drug Tax (COMBAT) Evaluation March 31, 2000 

3  National Institute of Justice Report: Jackson County, Missouri, COMmunity Backed Anti-Drug Tax (COMBAT) Evaluation March 31, 2000 

4 The Kansas City Star September 6, 1991

5 The Kansas City Star December 31, 1992

6 The Kansas City Star November 8, 1989

7 The St. Louis Post-Dispatch November 12, 1989

8 The Kansas City Star December 13, 1989

9 The Kansas City Star April 19, 1990

10 The Kansas City Star January 29, 1990

11 The Kansas City Star April 19, 1990

12 The Philadelphia Daily News April 25, 1990

13 The Kansas City Star June 15, 1990

14 The Kansas City Star June 28, 1990

15 Drug Abuse In Jackson County, Missouri: Problem Assessment and Recommendations December 1990

16 The Kansas City Star September 4, 1991

17 The Kansas City Star May 2, 1991

18 The Kansas City Star July 22, 1991

19 The Kansas City Star July 23, 1991

20 The Kansas City Star August 23, 1991

21 The Kansas City Star September 6, 1991

22 The Kansas City Star September 8, 1991

23 The Kansas City Star January 16, 1992

24 The Kansas City Star February 10, 1992

25 The Kansas City Star May 19, 1992

26 The Kansas City Star September 8, 1992

27 The Kansas City Star October 26,1992

28 The Kansas City Star December 31, 1992

» PART 3