The Ector County Commissioners Court in two weeks will decide whether to end support for the Odessa-based West Texas Narcotics Task Force, another drug task force funded by the federal Byrne grant program. Both the District Attorney and Sheriff Mark Donaldson support ending the task force, apparently along with a majority of commissioners:
Most commissioners appear to favor ending the county’s participation in the drug task force and re-establishing a narcotics unit in the sheriff’s department.Judge Caddell hit the nail on the head: spending Byrne grants on drug task forces creates a huge liability risk plus additional responsibilities for the lead agency. That's a key reason more than 20 drug task forces have closed their doors in the last three years. But it also means counties don't receive Byrne grant money for other allowable uses, like expanding drug treatment and probation services.
[County Judge Jerry] Caddel said the county has ended up using its personnel for drug enforcement in the region, rather than in Ector County.
“We carry the liability for the activities as well as a majority of the funding,” the judge said. “It really creates a support system for other counties using Ector County personnel.”
During the court’s discussion of ending the participation, it was clear not every commissioner supports pulling out of the task force as Precinct 3 Commissioner Barbara Graff said, “I think we need to stay with the task force.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons moved to table the matter until after budget hearings, Precinct 1 Commissioner Freddie Gardner seconded and the motion was approved.
Asked whether Ector County needs its own narcotics unit, [Sheriff] Donaldson answered, “Oh yeah, oh yeah.”
That's what I was waiting for officials to say in the article, but the comment never came: not just that the county would pull out of the task force -- I'm glad for that and think it's the right decision -- but they should then apply to use that money for something else, like creating a system of progressive sanctions for probationers that would qualify the county for new money from the state. If the Ector County commissioners court decides not to participate in a drug task force, it would be irresponsible not to apply to the governor to use that money to bolster other aspects of the criminal justice system.
Right now, counties throughout the state are making similar decisions about whether to participate in Byrne-funded task forces, which suffer from a record of scandal both in Texas and around the country. The Texas Department of Public Safety and the governor's criminal justice division will decide by the end of September which if any Byrne task forces will continue to receive funding.
Elsewhere, drug task forces have begun to complain more loudly about proposed budget cuts from the Bush Administration that would put them out of business entirely. But a few counties have wisely applied for Byrne grants to pay for other things, and started to get them.