Waynesburg, Virginia, is a town of about 8,000 residents about a 30-minute drive from the U.S. border with Mexico.
In the 1970s, it became the epicenter of a drug trade.
But it’s also where the FBI and local police have been tracking drug activity.
Now, in an effort to make the town safer, the FBI is bringing in a team of local drug task force officers to help build a new task force in the town.
It’s a big deal: The FBI is hiring more local police officers to work with them in a war on drugs that’s taking on a new meaning as more and more communities across the country are trying to cut down on the flow of drugs into their communities.
A new report from the Government Accountability Office, released last week, found that the FBI’s effort to train local police and prosecutors to work more closely with local drug officers is costing taxpayers an estimated $1.7 billion per year.
“The task force has been a critical part of the FBI mission to reduce drug use and the flow, and the success of this task force is likely to have a positive impact on law enforcement in the communities it has been deployed to,” the GAO concluded.
“While the initial cost to the taxpayer for the new taskforce may be substantial, the results are significant and positive for local law enforcement agencies.”
The FBI and the local police force are also working together to combat the drug trade, partnering to develop strategies and training for police officers and other law enforcement officials to improve coordination between police and local drug groups.
A team of about 50 officers from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local law-enforcement agencies have been assigned to the town since May.
The task force will be the first of its kind in the country, the GAOA report says.
The operation comes amid a federal crackdown on drugs, with federal agents taking a much larger role in enforcing drug laws in the states.
The GAO says that the increased use of local law officers by federal agents in drug enforcement efforts has resulted in significant decreases in drug activity in Waynesville.
The FBI has also begun sending agents to Waynesberg to help with drug investigations, the report notes.
But local law officials say that the drug problem is far from solved.
“We’re dealing with the same problem we were in 20 years ago: people coming in from Mexico, coming in to this town and selling drugs.
We don’t know where they are,” Waynes County Sheriff Mike Nell says.
“They’re still coming in.
We have no idea what they are.”
This week, the local mayor and local sheriff are speaking with U.K. lawmakers about ways to help local police better coordinate their efforts with federal officials.
And while there have been other high-profile examples of police cooperation with the federal government, this is the first time that the United States has been directly involved in a joint effort between the FBI in Wayensburg and local prosecutors and police officers.
“It’s very difficult to say how much money that the federal authorities are spending on this,” Nell tells NPR’s Rachel Martin.
“I can tell you that the local community and the federal law enforcement are working very closely together to solve the problem of drugs and drug trafficking in this community.”
NPR’s Lauren Greenfield, Liza Smith, and Mike Segar contributed to this report.