Monday, December 27, 2004

Jury: DPS Promoted Cronies to Oversee Drug Task Forces

Jordan Smith reports in the Austin Chronicle that a Travis County jury found earlier this month for 16 plaintiffs who'd accused the Texas Department of Public Safety of promoting pre-selected cronies to 11 new captains positions created in 2001, ignoring test scores and manipulating oral scores to get the people they wanted. The jury found that "DPS higher-ups rigged a 2001 promotional exam in order to promote a group of favored good ol' boys, and in the process engaged in age, gender, and race discrimination and retaliation against several officers who had the temerity to complain about the rigged exam," Smith reported.

Jordan did a great job with the article, so go there for details. Her piece missed a crucial element, though, that explains the bigger picture, or part of it. Those captain's positions were created to oversee the Tulia-style Byrne-grant funded drug task forces, which were formally placed under DPS' authority in January 2002. The Criminal Jurisprudence Committee of the Texas House of Representatives, led by Chairman Terry Keel, R-Austin, recently recommended that the task force system be abolished because DPS' new oversight role has been unsuccessful.

That's right, the 11 disputed DPS captain's positions, those officers who were promoted over their apparently more qualified competition, were supposed to provide oversight to the ridiculously scandal-ridden Texas drug task force system! But instead of letting women and folks with the highest test scores have a fair shake, the jury found that the DPS administration wanted its own hand-selected people to get the new gigs (there aren't that many captain's positions, so the creation of 11 new ones was a big deal as far as promotion opportunities at that level in the bureaucracy).

I don't know the backstory here, and haven't looked personally at any of the court documents nor spoken to a single source -- again, go to Jordan. But, purely speculating, there's a lot of task-force-related politicking at play here, and it's interesting to contemplate what it all might mean. Most generously, perhaps, because operating these scandal-ridden task forces required special skills, experience, or even a trust level with agency management, DPS officials wanted folks who they knew could handle the job.

Or, perhaps some applicants with the highest scores had histories of misconduct or other problems in their personal background that would make them bad candidates to run task forces, which have tended to corrupt their administrators. State civil service laws don't allow administrators to account for misconduct in evaluating relative promotion test scores. This blog doesn't have the resources, but an interesting exercise would be to file open records requests for the personnel files and for closed Internal Affairs investigations for both the 16 plaintiffs and the 11 officers who were promoted to captain. If many of the 16 had significant records of misconduct, maybe there was a reason they weren't promoted. Or, if many of the 11 who were graced with the captain's insignia turn out to have bad records, it might tell you DPS just wanted these guys, regardless of their past.

On the other hand, it could also be exactly what the plaintiffs allege, a case of straight up discrimination and good old boy-ism. If that's the case, it implies DPS was looking for captains to keep up the status quo, who wouldn't rock the boat, who would go along to get along. In practice, Deputy Commander Patrick O'Burke, to whom those captains report, hasn't given them the opportunity, as he's pressed for mergers and procedural reforms that have been met with task force resistance. But O'Burke didn't have that job yet, and anyway, the 11 hires would have been DPS Colonel Thomas A. Davis' call; he's the top dog over there. It would be ironic if part of the reason DPS can't get the task forces under control is that they'd illegally hired folks with the wrong temperament for an oversight job.

All we know from this jury verdict is that DPS wanted these 11 guys to run Texas' Byrne-funded drug task forces, and that administrators overlooked the 16 plaintiffs, apparently illegally. What I'd be fascinated to learn is "Why?".

For more on Texas' Byrne-grant funded drug task forces, see also, Byrne Task Forces Not Just a Texas Problem; Racial Profiling in Palestine; Profile of a Gypsy Cop; Local officials miss boat on Byrne funding.