Sunday, December 26, 2004

Errata, site stuff

Three corrections or clarifications to past Grits posts are in order.

First, in the series "Profile of a Gypsy Cop," in Part II, I declared that I'd seen no evidence that any of the officers involved in the Kleberg County-based drug task force described were prosecuted. However, I had not traveled to Kingsville to search the ten-year-old court records. According to a source who is personally familiar with the case, Commander Bywaters was convicted of a minor charge and given five months probation. It was correct, though, that neither the officer described in the story who destroyed evidence in Bywaters' criminal investigation, nor the one who lied to the court about marijuana missing from the evidence locker, were prosecuted for their offenses. I sincerely regret the error. However, five months probation for a drug task force commander stealing cocaine from the evidence locker to support his habit seems like a slap on the wrist, at best, doesn't it?

Also, Judge John Creuzot who operates the Dallas drug court confirmed via email that the low recidivism rates attributed to his operation in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Interim Report, reported in this post, are accurate. Another source with knowledge of the Dallas court had questioned them. Judge Creuzot distinguished between drug courts and "drug treatment courts," which he said had lower recidivism rates. I'll admit I don't fully understand the distinction he's making, but sometime after the new year I want to go to Dallas to take a look for myself. The Judge disputed my comments questioning the viability of forced treatment -- he insisted that it works very well for addicts to hard drugs, and that adequate protocols exist to distinguish addicts from recreational or occasional users who wouldn't benefit from drug treatment. I appreciate his clarification. I still don't think forced treatment is useful for pot smokers or the non-addicted, so I'm glad the experts are parsing out how to make those case-by-case judgments.

Next, another little birdie told me I got it nearly but not quite right regarding the Harris County Sheriff's participation in Harris County's Byrne grant-funded narcotics task force. The sheriff pulled all his troops off the task force last year, which is operated by the Baytown Police Department. An anonymous source who appears to have direct knowledge of the situation emailed to say that, while the sheriff did pull all his staff, the Harris County Sheriff was still formally participating in the task force, if only as a function of the sheriff's signature on the operating agreement. The anonymous source said that the dozen officers were pulled because of funding disagreements, because the task force had become a "dysfunctional family," and because task force commander Roger Clifford of the Baytown PD is an "asshole." The Sheriff could dissolve the task force, the source pointed out, simply by formally pulling even that on-paper support. (That's correct and I should have caught it; by state rule, the sheriff and county commissioners court must both approve for a county to participate in a Byrne-funded task force.) He should; the bunch at Baytown PD are modern Keystone Cops -- another Tulia lawsuit waiting to happen.

By the way, what do the above three corrections and clarifications have in common? They all stem from insiders in Texas' criminal justice system reading
Grits for Breakfast and helping make sure I get what I'm telling you right. That's pretty damn cool. Thanks, folks!

Grits was pleased to receive several recent positive references in the blogosphere, by the way, which I'll mention since I'm still in lazy, post-Christmas-Sunday-morning blog mode. Pete at Drug War Rant honors this blog with the comment that
Grits brings the 'very best' coverage of Texas drug war issues. The weekly Drug War Chronicle and Drug Sense Weekly both linked to Grits' post on the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee's recommendation to dissolve Texas' drug task force system. (I don't understand, it, but that story STILL hasn't been picked up by the mainstream press; it's a big deal. "Don't they read my blog?," he whined.) In between predictions about Supreme Court's publication schedule, Professor Doug Berman said nice things about Grits' "great Texas coverage" of sentencing issues.

I mentioned that Charles Kuffner nominated
Grits for "Best Single Issue Blog," in Wampum's Best of the Left Koufax Awards (nominations closed), the "single" issue being the Texas justice system. (I find the single issue moniker completely understandable, but kind of funny; often it feels like I'm writing on way too many topics!) Since Wampum suggested self-submissions, especially in best post or best series categories, I also forwarded them a bunch of my own articles on drug task forces as a nomination for best series. Except that I was still writing it when nominations closed, I wish I'd nominated the recent biometrics series, which is less sprawling, more focused, and reads more like a single story line. If you haven't followed the political war over Tulia, Hearne and these other drug war catastrophes in Texas these last few years, it's hard, I've been told repeatedly, to wrap your brain around what some of this drug task force coverage really means.

But easily the compliment that means the most to me came from Libby at Last One Speaks, who took time out of her busy moving schedule on Christmas to plug Grits and announce that the entire last week of posts were a "must read"! Her advice to "start at the top and keep scrolling" warms my heart. That's what I really want from this blog, after all, is for people to read it. By my count, I've written nearly 70,000 words on this blog since it began in October, and it sure ain't for my health! A month or so ago, Cursor.org linked to a little funny post I did, and generated hundreds of extra hits over the course of the week. Hardly any of those clicked off the short post to read other
Grits fare, though, and it didn't really result in many longer-term readers. That taught me that traffic isn't really the best way to judge the blog's effectiveness. By contrast, when folks come here from Last One Speaks, Drug War Rant, D'Alliance, Loretta Nall's blog, Vice Squad, Talk Left, Sentencing Law and Policy blog, and, interestingly, Underneath Their Robes, they tend to stay for a while and read a lot more than just the page they came to. And as the above clarifications show, thankfully some of the right people are reading this blog, even if a lot of people aren't, yet. (Let me take this opportunity to say "howdy" to my regular readers at the Texas Department of Public Safety.)

We had a fine Christmas at the Grits household, with my daughter and the in-laws over for dinner yesterday. I'm the house cook, so that means Christmas was a big cooking day for me, though lighter than some past years because my side of the family wasn't visiting -- we had a fabulous, slow cooked roast and vegetables that sat braising in the oven for four hours, plus homemade cranberry sauce, green beans with ham, pumpkin pie (crust from scratch; filling started with a whole pumpkin), and these Christmassy nut crescent cookies that are covered on the outside with powdered sugar. A lot of that's left over today, so this lazy post will likely be followed by some lazy munching and then some football watching. I've got a couple of other items that need discussing, but don't know if I'll get to them today. Thanks for stopping by, though, and happy holidays.