The news comes in the wake of the Texas Legislature's passage of HB 1239. That bill gave DPS new tools for exercising command and control over Texas' scandal-plagued Byrne-grant-funded drug task forces, which have earned an ignominious reputation statewide starting with the infamous Tulia case. Activists had wanted the rogue entities abolished, but the Legislature instead gave them more regulation. Still, local law enforcement interests are portraying the increased oversight as motivated by malicious legislative intent:
Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter said he sees the increased regulations as an effort on the part of legislators to eliminate drug task forces from the state.Not everyone in law enforcement thinks the new law is untenable. The Trans-Pecos task force operated by Reeves County, which covers 8 counties adjacent to the West Texas Task Force, will not dissolve, the Midland paper reported, but instead will accept greater DPS oversight in order to continue to receive grant funds.
"I think the state legislature has done their best to destroy multi-jurisdictional drug task forces throughout the state and I think with legislation placing it under the Department of Public Safety that they have succeeded," Painter said.
Texas Speaker of the House Tom Craddick told the Reporter Telegram Wednesday he supports Texas task forces, but only as supervised by the DPS.
Even so, if the West Texas task force closes that means the two most populous counties in the area -- Midland and Ector (Odessa is the county seat) -- won't get their fair share of federal Byrne grant money anymore. It doesn't have to be that way. Ector and Midland officials should take this opportunity to request federal block grant money for other things their counties need.
Counties can apply to the Governor's Criminal Justice Division for the same federal money to pay for drug courts, drug treatment, intensive probation services, even special programs targeting crimes by juveniles or against the elderly -- none of which bring the same liability risk drug task forces do. (See a list of other programs for which local governments may request Byrne grant money on page 5 of this report [pdf].)
Right now, most Texans don't live in a jurisdiction that benefits from the federal Byrne grant funding for drug task forces. A majority of counties -- 140 out of 254 -- have already decided not to participate in Tulia-style task forces. Only about 25 task forces exist in Texas today, down from 46 just three years ago. Still, the Governor spends 86% of the state's Byrne grant funding to pay for drug task forces. As more counties leave the system, Governor Perry should shift that money to drug courts and other needed programs so it may be distributed with greater geographic equity.
People in those 140 counties pay federal taxes, too, after all. They should get their share of federal grant money.