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San Benito
April 14, 2024

County designated as high-intensity drug area

 The White House designated San Benito County as a high-intensity drug-trafficking area as part of an initiative.
According to a statement from the sheriff’s office:

On Feb. 14, the opportunity to submit a HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) Initiative was afforded to the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office. This opportunity was afforded to every county in the United States, though a new designation in Northern California was not anticipated.

Historically, San Benito County was included in the South Bay Metro Initiative (SB METRO) within the Northern California HIDTA (NC HIDTA). SB Metro includes southern Alameda County, Santa Clara County, Santa Cruz County and Monterey County.  There was a time when Gilroy and Morgan Hill Police Departments were part of the Unified Narcotic Enforcement Team (UNET) housed here in San Benito County, chaired by the Sheriff’s Office and supervised by the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ).  In 2014, Gilroy and Morgan Hill Police Departments left UNET to join the Santa Clara County Special Enforcement Team (SCCSET).  This removed San Benito County’s connection to SB Metro as UNET no longer had Santa Clara County Agencies attached to it.

San Benito County has long been attractive to transnational criminal organizations.  This is especially true for Mexican Drug Cartels and the illicit marijuana trade.  Our county is attractive due to our very remote/rural nature and limited resources.  We have major routes of distribution as we have major highways that traverse our county and connect the state.  Because of this, the White House has named our county as one of 16 new initiatives in 13 states.  We are the only new initiative in California.

This task was taken on as a collaborative effort by UNET Task Force Commander Rich Westphal, DEA Resident Agent in Charge Mike Robinson (RET), Karen Sherwood, Deputy Director of NC HIDTA, and Mike Sena, Executive Director of NC HIDTA.  The analysts for NC HIDTA worked diligently and collaboratively with state, federal and local agencies to complete our application and present it to the White House.

The San Benito County Sheriff’s Office is thankful for our partnership with the California Department of Justice, US Drug Enforcement Administration and the Northern California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area/Northern California Regional Intelligence Center.  We would not have been successful in this initiative without their help and guidance.

(From HIDTA Website at https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/high-intensity-drug-trafficking-areas-program)

The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, provides assistance to Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States.

There are currently 28 HIDTAs, which include approximately 18.3 percent of all counties in the United States and a little over 65.5 percent of the U.S. population.  HIDTA-designated counties are located in 49 states as well as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the District of Columbia, and the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon.

In August 2015, the Office of National Drug Control Policy announced an unprecedented partnership among regional HIDTA programs to address the heroin threat facing those communities through public health-public safety partnerships. The HIDTA Heroin Response Strategy now covers 20 States in eight HIDTAs: Appalachia, Atlanta/Carolinas, Michigan, Ohio, New England, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia/Camden, and Washington/Baltimore. This HIDTA Heroin Response Strategy is fostering a collaborative network of public health-public safety partnerships to address the heroin and opioid epidemic from multiple perspectives.

Each HIDTA assesses the drug trafficking threat in its defined area for the upcoming year, develops a strategy to address that threat, designs initiatives to implement the strategy, proposes funding needed to carry out the initiatives, and prepares an annual report describing its performance the previous year.  A central feature of the HIDTA program is the discretion granted to the Executive Boards to design and implement initiatives that confront drug trafficking threats in each HIDTA.  The program’s 59 Intelligence and Investigative Support Centers help HIDTA’s identify new targets and trends, develop threat assessments, de-conflict targets and events, and manage cases.

The HIDTA program currently funds 752 initiatives throughout the nation, including:

  • Enforcement initiatives comprising multi-agency investigative, interdiction, and  prosecution activities;
  • Intelligence and information-sharing initiatives;
  • Support for programs that provide assistance beyond the core enforcement and intelligence and information-sharing initiatives; and
  • Drug use prevention and drug treatment initiatives.