Thursday, December 16, 2004

TX House Committee: End Drug Task Force System!

UPDATE: This bill passed. See Grits' analysis of the final legislation here.

Terrific news! If the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in the Texas House of Representatives gets its way, the long saga that began with the infamous Tulia drug stings could end next spring with the abolition of the network of Texas drug task forces paid for by the federal "Byrne grant" funding stream.

The just-released Interim Report (pdf, see pp 39-43) of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee demands an end to Texas' regional narcotics task force system as we know it:

"Continuing to sanction task force operations as stand-alone law enforcement entities - with widespread authority to operate at will across multiple jurisdictional lines - should not continue. The current approach violates practically every sound principle of police oversight and accountability applicable to narcotics interdiction."

Wow! That's strong language condemning Texas' network of drug task forces financed by the federal Byrne grant program. The committee, led by Republican former Travis County Sheriff Chairman Terry Keel, R-Austin, minced few words in its unanimous rebuff of the task force system.

Texas' Byrne grant spending priorities, the committee observed, focus too much on enforcement compared to the national and state drug demand reduction strategies, "which place prevention and treatment programs ahead of enforcement."

Exactly right. Nationally, around 40% of all Byrne grant funds go to pay for drug task forces -- in Texas, that figure was 86% in 2004, the report noted.

What that money has bought the state, though, is a lot of trouble. "The authority of DPS to monitor and enforce [its] policies is questionable," the report finds, and numerous, embarrassing scandals besides the Tulia episode have occurred. "This problem has been exacerbated by a lack of clear accountability for addressing misconduct, with the task force officer often unaccountable to any traditional, local chain of command or accountable elected official."

Reform efforts so far, the report noted, haven't solved the problem.

"Task force operations throughout the state were placed under DPS command [in 2002] in an attempt to instill some professional consistency into task force operations in response to numerous scandals. The Department of Public Safety oversight improved the professionalism of the operations. However, even after the change, scandals continued."

Reading the report, it's easy to see why. "One of the problems has been that participating officers from various agencies are not supervised by their own agency's chain of command, have little or no contact for long periods of time with their superiors, remain in an undercover capacity for periods longer than that recommended for such operations, and thus do not operate under even minimal standards mandated by most law enforcement agencies in the United States for narcotics operations."

In other words, the committee thinks the problems that allowed Tom Coleman to run loose in Tulia have not been resolved.

For all that they're right on their criticisms, the committee's proposed recommendation on task forces strikes me as odd. They want to require that officers operating outside their jurisdiction basically do so operating under the buddy system with local officers, which, the report argues, would effectively end task force operations as they currently exist.

That's well and good, but it doesn't address the failure to spend Byrne grants on prevention and treatment, closer in line with national and state drug demand reduction priorities. The committee said that if the task force system were abolished, Byrne grant money "could" continue to be spent on law enforcement instead of treatment. I wish they'd recommended more strongly that the money be shifted to those other programs.

Overall, though, the committee recommendation represents a tidal shift in thinking at the Texas Legislature regarding drug enforcement. To even contemplate shifting resources from enforcement to prevention and treatment would not have been taken seriously before the Tulia scandals. "Although the Tulia case brought national attention to the issue of task forces," the committee noted, "and prompted the legislature in 2003 to intervene to free the final 13 people who were still behind bars, this case is by no means an isolated incident, a fact which has propelled the debate on the wisdom of continuing to utilize such task forces as a means to enforce drug laws."

It's a testament to how deeply to its core the Tulia case has shaken the Texas criminal justice system, that its reverberations have so transformed public and now legislative opinion.

For more background, see also: Byrne task forces not just a Texas problem; Drug task force support dwindling, Racial Profiling in Palestine, Profile of a Gypsy Cop, and Local officials miss the boat on Byrne grant funding.

15 comments:

vacarter said...

I hope that the Drug Task Forces such as Agriplex can be abolished. I have seen and heard of unbelieveable misuse of power, and little regard for truth or justice. They are controlling what goes on in the Federal Court System in Central Texas. I have lost a family member to this fiasco and had my family's lives turned upside down by it. When the dust settles we will have a story to tell. I have tried to email Scott Henson but did not get an answer. If you happen to read this, please try to contact me.

Blogs said...
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Anonymous said...

Definitely abolish the agriplex!!!Manics with guns,badges, and the power to do whatever to whomever they please. The agriplex has no regard for the law they are sworn to uphold and a job paid for by the tax payers that are victimized by said "officers". My God! Come on people! Our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, no one is safe from these drug task forces if they "get it in for you" or if some druggie lies on you in order to "help" their selves out of a prison sentence!!! Band together Texans and put a stop to this injustice being served on anyone in the path of the agriplex!!!!

Anonymous said...

The town of Stephenville has an on going abuse of the legal system. They (law enforcement, d.e.a., and others) take the law into their hands and wielded as they please using tactics such as harrassment and not to mention total disreguard for ones civil rights, wiretapping, just to mention a few. They will completely invade your life and discredit your reputation wheather you are guilty or not. I have never seen a more injust or blatant disreguard toward an individuals rights as a U.s. citizen. Rights such as " innocence before guilt", "right to privacy and the right to privacy during travel", "Harrassment" Which citizens are instructed to drive by your home any time you step outside to work in the yard are the constant following to every place you go and I mean evry place you go, are the constant video surveylliance of your home, telling your neightbors your a drug dealer wheather are not you are. Also getting your neighbors involved in watcthing you every move by video, car, visual, and yet you've never been charged or even approached by any offical of the law enforcement. This is just a few ways used by our law officers and believe me tulia incident hasen't got anything on these guys and yet it goes unchecked and the injustice keeps on happening because they only select the ones that have a hard time fighting back or standing up to the "big bully". They tapp the phones at will, they have been caught on peoples roof tops trying to install listening devices. These guys flat out take over and run your life period. I'm all for upholding the law but the blatant disreguard for an individuals civil rights is just not right. There are plenty of people in this town that get off just because of who they are. Maybe I should say that my town were polotics are the rule of the day would be more appropriate besides this is a little "peyton place".

Irish said...

I hope they do get shut down. I worked for the local police in the dispatcher capacity. I saw first hand how crooked things could really be. Planting of evidence etc...
Now I have lost a family member to the penal system due to crooked politics, bad searches, and third party info from a drug abuser to save his own backside. Our North Texas Regional Drug Task Force as well as a DPS narcotics agent are about to face perjury charges as well as a burglary charge for breaking into a suspects residence without a search warrant. Interesting how we as citizens are held accountable to our actions, yet these "officers of the law/to serve and protect" are not held to the strict guidelines other citizens are. Who will protect us from the protectors?

Anonymous said...

I was arrested in central texas at the age of 17 for delivery of 5/10 of a gram of marijuana by a task force officer. I gave the "law enforcement officer" 7 grams (of course i could not say that in court). After time, I have found out that the same officer has been sent to drug rehab and accused of some type of sex offense with a minor. If an officer is proven to be corrupt, how is it that the offenses that are now on my record based on his testimony stay for life eventhough he is not credible?

Anonymous said...

I really hope they abolished. dont know if anyone knows where vernon texas is ,the jails ther are completly full due to the north texas drug task force.whats funny is they go after the little drug people threaten them,have them give up anybody and never go after the big ones.but they will also take little ones and make it sound that they are big time dealers and makers of the stuff just to look like they are really doing a great job but you go to the black area of town and they are on the corners selling to everyone but i guess we all know why they dont go there stay out of vernon if you dont want a wrongly convicted drug charge by the local cops or the drug task force

Anonymous said...

if you read the comment from the person from Stephenville texas on 09/18/05 that is the very same way VERNON TEXAS IS.THEY ARE CONTROLLING EVERYONES LIFES. I AM STRONGLY AGAINST DRUG USE AND DRUG MAKING BUT EXCUSE ME IF I AM WRONG BUT DRUGS ARE NOT THE ONLY CRIME NEEDED TO BE TAKEN CARE OF.THESE PEOPLE CAN DESTROY ANYONE LIFE WITH JUST ONE WRONG CONVICTION AND YOU CAN NEVER GET IT BACK AND LETS FACE IT TEXAS OR ANY STATE THEY HAVE NOT MADE THE DRUG THING ANY BETTER JUST OVER POPULATED THE PRISON SYSTEM AND RUINED LIFES

Anonymous said...

well here is some more news about Vernon Texas again. they have got a new guy coming in to the court system now that is going to work with the drug task force . who is going to go back as far as 20 years to get those who were not convicted and sentenced of their drug arrest and that he is going to convict them is that legal i cant believed that Vernon could do that

Anonymous said...

I WORK FOR A NARCOTICS TASK FORCE AND AM PROUD TO SAY SO. IM ALL MY YEARS I CAN SAY WITH PRIDE THAT I AM PROUD OF THE JOB WE HAVE DONE. TIME AND TIME AGAIN WE PUT OUR LIVES AT RISK TO FIGHT WHAT SEEMS TO BE A LOOSING WAR AGAINST DRUGS. I DO IT FOR OUR FUTURE, AND I HOPE TO CONTINUE WITH ALL MY ABILITIES. DRUGS NO MATTER HOW SMALL OF AN AMOUNT OR LARGE OF AN AMOUNT ARE DANGEROUS, AND IN THE HANDS OF OUR CHILDREN CAN LEAD TO ADDICTION, OR WORSE. FOR THOSE OF YOU NOT IN OUR PROFFESSION, YOU WOULD NOT UNDERSTAND. I DEFEND NO BAD COP THAT HAS USED ANY UNFAIR MEANS FOR A CASE, AND HOPE THEY ALL GET CAUGHT. BUT FOR US WHO DEDICATE OUR LIVES TO LAW ENFORCEMENT WITH DIGNITY AND RESPECT, WE WILL CONTINUE TO FIGHT THE WAR ON DRUGS, WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT. THANK YOU.

Anonymous said...

IM 17 I LIVE IN VERNON TEXAS AND I SMOKE WEED BUT I DONT DEW OTHER DRUGS CUZ I KNO HOW BAD THEY ARE BUT THE DRUG TASK FORCE AINT HELPIN PPL THEY JUST KICK DOORS IN AND HAUL U OFF TO JAIL THEY DONT GIVVA DAMM ABOUT TRYNA HELP THESE PPL GET OFFA DRUGS THEY WANT US INTHERE SO THEY CAN GET PAID THATS ALL I HAD MY HOUSE RAIDED AND THEY DIDNT HAVA SEARCH WARRANT OR NUTHIN THEY DID IT CUZ A SNITCH SAID I HAD A WEED PIPE INSIDE BUT I CLEANED OUT MY HOUSE THE DAY B4 THEY RAIDED LOLOLOLO I THINK THA MONEY THA DRUG FIORCES GET SHOULD GO TO REBUILDIN THA COMMUNITYS AKA THA GHETTO AND TRYNA HELP PPL OUT CUZ WE ALL IN THA STRUGGLE PPL NEED TO KNO THERE A WAY OUT AND THAT U DONT GOTTA B A DOPE DEALER TO MAKE IT OUT THA STATE OF TEXAS SHOULD TRAIN PPL WHO GET ARESSTED TO B SUMTHING SO WEN THEY GET OUT THEY DONT HAVE TO GO BACK TO SLANGIN CUS ITS HARD TO SHINE WEN THA GHETTO GOT YA SHADY

Anonymous said...

Drugs drugs drugs. There seems to be no end. The dope fiends take dope. There are laws against, we all know the possible outcome we get popped and make the local "Gazzette" and get us a record and our lives are ruined. It all somebody elses fault. Had nothing to do with us.
Often you hear the wine ass dope fiends crying. The problem is your a dope fiend! You probably have or had a parent that defends you. "Its all those nasty old cops".
Its true,many of the dope cops that are out there are as sorry, or worse than the people they are after. You have a choice, dont do the dope shithead! I quit over 20 years ago. I was the one they didnt think would ever give it. Wasnt worth giving a chance. I have crimminal records that will follow me the rest of my life. Thats just the price we have to pay. I seriously doubt cops are on top of houses of innocent people trying to install listening devices.Sure there are dirty cops and they mess with dirty criminals.I like the way China handled their drug problems. Ever see the old Historical films. The prisoners were on their knees with their hand behind them as the gaurd walked along with a pistol shooting them in the head. NOW THATS DETERRENT ! Probbably wouldnt be so many young Americans lost to the dope if it were thay way.

Anonymous said...

Well for the 17 yr. old in Vernon, go back to school and learn English. I am from Wichita Falls and unfortunately my job places me in contact with an ever-growing drug population. I support what the North Texas Drug Task Forces is doing but I feel that the surrounding communities would benefit if there were better communication and support of ALL law enforcement. The NCDT has it's own "secrete squirrel" club. The only real way I can see to push drugs out of our communities is to include everyone and get a DA that will prosecute them to the fullest.

tammy said...

task force, is that all everyone thinks our state and counties need? do you realize that people are targeted that have a criminal history and they are the ones to get popped for things that are not even on their property. the task force brings it to their property to get funding issues resolved. when they keep continuing their deadline because of drop outs they show the recent bust that things were not bagged and tagged, leave the items unsupervised and let the meadia walk up to and even touch the so called evidence. check it out on kauz.com 1/17/07 drug bust.

Anonymous said...

If we are going to discuss the war on drugs and have users and task force members contributing to this discussion I think it high time we look into just exactly what the drug laws say about them. Take a moment to google "man or other animals" and see where and why the State of Texas is not pursuing Drug Cases as a result of this argument. Look closely to the definition of Drug. Are you drug users a herd of animals, are the task force members treating drug users as a herd of animals. Think about it. Is this not genocide.

http://abundanthope.net/pages/True_US_History_108/Man-or-Other-Animals-US-Laws-Define-Humans-to-be-Animals---Livestock-on-the-Global-Plantation.shtml

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iANWihBKd94

http://adask.wordpress.com/category/man-or-other-animals/

http://adask.wordpress.com/2008/06/17/man-or-other-animals-1/

So drug users are you animals ?

So Task force guys are you committing genocide ?