Thursday, March 16, 2006

A curious personality

You have to be a bit of a weirdo to spend your time filing open records requests and combing through mounds of government documents, or as the Houston Chronicle put it, possessor of "a curious personality." Apparently I fall into that category. That's cool, though - I'll own it.

As
drug task forces around Texas are closing up shop this month, the Chronicle ran an editiorial Monday ("Shine a light," March 12) praising a series of ACLU open records requests that partly led to their demise. Those requests were filed on behalf of ACLU of Texas' police accountability project, which I head, and led to publication this public policy report (pdf) criticizing the task forces' flawed structure. Wrote the Chronicle:

The search process — the filing of petitions and persistence when requests are denied or delayed — can have striking results. About four years ago, the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union studied drug task forces, federally funded, state-controlled units assigned to fight narcotics crimes. Trying to understand their complex structure, the nonprofit filed a public information request for the task forces' arrest statistics, broken down by ethnicity.

No one in state government had ever asked for such data, so the group paid for its own computer analysis. The results showed rampant ethnic discrimination. Last year, partly because of that records request and the state research that followed, Gov. Rick Perry signed a law stripping the units' seized assets unless they followed stringent procedures.

Making use of public records takes vigilance, patience and persistence. It takes a curious personality to file petitions, crunch numbers and study fine print, but the unencumbered right to do so protects everyone.

That's pretty fun, don't you think? The legislation they're talking about was HB 1239 passed last year, of which regular Grits readers are well aware. Since the Austin Statesman is spending so-called "Sunshine Week" bashing Austin's open government online proposal on the May ballot, it's nice to see a newspaper actually come out in favor of open records. (Statesman editors appear to favor open records laws only so long as nobody but their reporters ever use them.)

Want to file your own open records request? Vince has a good post and sample letter on the topic
here, and see also this Grits discussion from last year.

17 comments:

drwu said...

love it too bad we cant get MASA {mothers against south americans) to ride in and completly trounce the constitution & invent new tricks to raise revenue for some piss ant county see FT Bend that would clear up the border problem a little quicker than the DEA cleaned up budget monies

drwu said...

please explain ALR, pretrial services, and drug screening as it pertains to due process & 5th ammendment in dwi case & is it illegal to have brand new unused syringes in your vehicle with no good explanation other than "hypochondriac?"HELP!

hope said...

Mr. Henson.

Thank you for everything you've done in helping this state and this country to be a tad bit saner.

I appreciate it very much.

A "Hensonite", I am, and glad of it.

celtictexan said...

Here we go again. This stupid agenda to destroy sanity in the state and the country. All that is cared about here is the fact that minorities are over represented. Not a word about the fact that they commit so much more crime than whites. Not a word about how they are over represented especially in the drug trade. Next the aclu will be trying to stop the government from fighting terrorism because to many more Arabs than Whites are being arrested.

Sounds like its time for more legislated equality. Let's pass a law making it mandatory for whites to deal drugs at the same rate as blacks and hispanics.

Silly liberals always so willing to cut your own throats.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

CelticTexan: You simply don't know what you're talking about. Please READ the linked report referenced before you declare that "All that is cared about here is the fact that minorities are over represented." The Heritage Foundation and National Taxpayer Union also want these task forces shut down. Governor Perry just de-funded them in Texas, and George W. Bush wants to zero out their budget nationwide - do you really think it's because they're all LIBERALS?! There are more things under heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.

Anonymous said...

The Drug Task Force concept has been linked racially because of Tulia. In my opinion, Tulia was not raced base and to link it to race was a big mistake. There are Tulia's with white defendants so the issue isn't race, it's DRUG TASK FORCES.

It's not wrong to link crack cocaine to black defendants than it is to link cocaine to whites or meth to the blue collar middle class. It's not stereotyping, it's a statistical fact but general thought does not equal particularize by race. Leave that to the bigots.

One of these days, the other 49 states will see that a group (a task force of any kind) with no master that gets together despite huge differences will automatically change or modify a large number of their differences. This leads to an environment where deceit is tolerated and eventually becomes the rule rather than the exception. To illustrate it, think about a simple field test for drugs.

Generally, they're presumptive; very unreliable and they can lead to false positives. On the other hand, they can be helpful but the tester must use the right test and some of the field tests are expensive to buy.

Field tests have a wide variety of applications but let's consider them with search warrants because that's where cops with an assortment of responsibilities to select from will use deceit, especially in a task force.

If the DEA rule for field tests is different than the state and local rules, the task force will actually use the rule that accomplishes their objective. Remember, no one sees which rule they used and they can report whichever one they want to. This might seem picky because the rule differences are subtle but this isn't about the rules. This is about breaking them, lying about breaking them, and sanctioning lying instead of the truth. That's the problem in Drug Task Forces and a black task force agent can lie just as good as a white, or hispanic one.

If I had to put one word to describe a Drug Task Force it would be DECEIT. They foster it and use it daily as they weave in an out of rules that they couldn't do without being in a group.

celtictexan said...

Your link to Tulia just proves my point. I live in Canyon Tx just about 20 miles Away. Every one in that case was guilty as could be both white and black. The liberals just could not stand the fact that in a town that small almost every black in it besides being on welfare were making a killing dealing drugs and were caught.

The people involved on both sides of the issue around here are always amazed at the crap they heard in the press. All we hear is the innocents of the people and just because of their race and all that liberal mantra. But the locals all know they were guilty.

And the fact that there were whites also charged is almost not mentioned. They can't play the race card if the part about the whites is known. Most of the blacks have been arrested for drugs again since they and the lawyers got their money from the lawsuit via the taxpayer.

Like I said this is all nothing but race garbage with no thought to how much damage these people pushing drugs are doing to the children of this country. White and Black.

Anonymous said...

celictexan:

They weren't making a killing. Most of them couldn't even pay their light bill and you're right about the race card but there's a side of this you need to understand.

If you were leading this drug war charge and you wanted large numbers of arrests where would you direct your resources? You'd direct them where you could get the most arrests for the least amount of resources.

I worked in an area where every April 1, the state police did an April fools roundup and each year to get the numbers up they went into the projects because the projects had plenty of drug dealers and they were easy to catch. It just so happened no whites lived in the projects so if you happened to see the defendants walking in the courthouse you didn't see any whites. That wasn't racial, but it could appear that way without knowing anything more.

You have a valuable gift and it's called your brain. Use it and sort through this thing from this perspective.

Right now, the drug war is nothing but a numbers driven monster where cops actually make money for a law enforcement function. That money pays for more effort while you the taxpayer foots the bill for all of the results. Their effort is driven by the money which is the same thing that drives the drug dealer.

Pay close attention to the people in these roundups and you'll see that they are re-offenders, addicts, and low level drug distributors. They sell because they are usually addicted and the jails are filling up with defendants. You have to pay to care for the defendants while their money goes back to the cops.

Drug prices are low, drug availability and drug purities are high so a yearly roundup of blacks in Tulia or anywhere else for that matter won't ever effectively fix that problem. It's not race, it's something worse but guys like Henson are fixing it even if they're playing the race card.

A good cause with bad reason is better than a bad cause with bad reason.

Anonymous said...

You're right about one thing. The drug war IS a numbers game. Made that way because been-counting ideology demands it. No true law enforcement person cares about numbers. If you had ever been an LEO you'd know this. Every one of us would rather put the most vicious, heinous, predatory criminals in jail for a long, long time. But that's just not possible because the "proof" of success needs to be measured in arrests vs dollars. Or so we're told.

Don't blame the drug war for creating a numbers/funding monster. ALL law enforcement is predicated on the same measure. Crime rate goes up in a city, more officers are hired. Too many burglaries, a "B&E" squad is formed. All requiring MORE money. And the bean counters like it this way.

And here we are, with a shift in the numbers game thanks to our blame gaming, whiny liberal friends. Weight amounts and arrests aren't proof of success. The new measure is the "dismantling of drug trafficking organizations" and the pooling of resources to disrupt "continuuing criminal enterprises.

It's good to see that you're able to pat yourself on the back, Scott. Let us know just how well you do when the new "outcome measures" make your desk from the next open records request. You won't be able to make heads or tails of it, but that doesn't mean you won't have an opinion. Right, Scott?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No celtictexan, the link to Tulia DOESN'T prove your point, or anything close to it. Like I said, please read the report I linked and see what other arguments were being made about task forces. Your depiction just doesn't explain why President Bush, the Heritage Foundation, etc., all want to de-fund these entities. YOU clearly want every issue to be about race (even tasers?!), but you shouldn't project your own baggage onto Gov. Perry and the President - I just don't think it's accurate or fair to call them "liberals."

The last anonymous, though obviously bitter, has it closer to right - it's the numbers game that's driving most of the abuses, and that's been the most persuasive criticism of Tulia-style drug task forces in the political arena - that and their unaccountable structure. Kinda funny that this officer is critical of the numbers game, says no real law enforcement officer supports it, but is still angry at attempts to change it. You can't please some people.

Anonymous said...

The anger stems from it having to be a numbers game. And now that one set of numbers doesn't support anything positive being done, a new paradigm of numbers crunching is created. When those numbers don't appease the right people, it will change again.

celtictexan said...

--It's not race, it's something worse-- I agree totally with this. I firmly believe that the real money makers are the lawyers. THey don't want an end to t the drug trade or any other illegal activety. The fortune they make defending these scumbag drug dealers white or black is something they will never let go of. Lawyers are the only ones who can afford to run for office. They make the laws then they and their buddy's wallow in taxpayer money.

--No celtictexan, the link to Tulia DOESN'T prove your point, or anything close to it.-- I guess to understand what I mean that you would have to live here and know what I know.

--Perry and the President - I just don't think it's accurate or fair to call them "liberals."-- Of course they would not be called liberal's if talking about most matters of government. But when the possiblity of being called a racist rear's its ugly head they talk just as liberal as Ted Kennedy or Jesse Jackson

Anonymous said...

"when the possiblity of being called a racist rear's its ugly head they talk just as liberal as Ted Kennedy or Jesse Jackson"

Amen, brother. Here endeth the lesson.

Hope said...

True racists and bigots really don't know how nasty and detestable they really are.

hope said...

"Nasty"...means "Vile". A stench to the nostrils of God.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Hope, I finally deleted some of that cop's comments for name calling without presenting an argument, and trotting out "racist" and "bigot" with no evidence is no better. I really don't want to do a lot of refereeing in the comments. Lets all try to rise above this level of dialogue, folks, and keep comments constructive.

hope said...

It's your blog and your rules, Scott.

Sorry.

I didn't mean to be name calling. I thought someone was promoting the acts of racism and bigotry because of race as though it were a good thing.

I do think racism and bigotry are vile and vile to God, because they are hatred. But I didn't mean to call anyone that.

Sorry. I didn't really mean to attack any person, but racism and bigotry themselves. Truly.

I'll be more cautious.

Of course, delete my previous statements and this one if it keeps the blog cleaner. Thanks for pointing my error out to me.

I certainly don't want to have a hand in making matters worse than they already are...so delete away, by all means.

It was meant to be a general statement in distaste of the two factors I mentioned and not directed pointedly at any one in particular.