JEFFERSON CITY - Some Missouri police officers and prosecutors Wednesday praised Gov. Mel Carnahan's efforts to fight methamphetamine but said some changes need to be made.
Carnahan's meth record has become a major issue in the campaign for U.S. Senate after the governor's opponent, Sen. John Ashcroft, attacked Carnahan in a series of ads earlier this fall.
"The state's meth laws are some of the toughest in the country," said Osage Beach Police Chief Jim McCart, who said he is a Republican. "I think (the meth debate) is an election year thing that has been turned all around."
But the law enforcement officials, convening in the captial for Carnahan's fourth annual meth summit, also said two main areas in the meth war need addressing.
Camden County Sheriff John Page said he wants to see tougher sentencing guidelines for first time meth offenders. Under state law, a court can give any offender probation after 120 days in prison.
"One-hundred and twenty days is just a vacation," he said. "They can come back and finish their business."
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Talent has also lambasted that sentencing provision in an effort to paint his foe, state Treasurer Bob Holden, as part of a failed establishment in Jefferson City.
The 120 day law applies to any crime but murder or rape. Why it is talked about so often in connection with meth over other crimes is unclear.
Several other officials said the "pre-cursor chemical" law needed to be clarified. Under that law, if someone has the chemicals used to make meth and displays the intent to do so, then police can arrest.
Page, a Democrat, said his officers are afraid to arrest anyone under that law because it is unclear what constitutes intent.
Geoffrey Preckshot, Assistant Prosecutor of Callaway County, said any clarification on the matter should come from the courts, not from a new law.
The consensus among police and prosecutors interviewed was that Carnahan has been very responsive to the needs of police in fighting meth.
"I think Mel Carnahan in his stint in the state Capitol has shown that he is pro-law enforcement," Savannah Police Chief Derald Lammers said.
Ashcroft launched a series of statewide ads this fall that attacked Carnahan for insufficiently funding law enforcement's efforts to fight meth. Since, both sides have brought out partisans attacking the governor or defending him.
Missouri ranks second in the nation in meth production. The drug is manufactured using readily available chemicals including pseudoephedrine (found in cold medecine), annhydrous ammonia, and lighter fluid.