Friday, March 31, 2006

Hug a drug task force officer - he's having a bad day

If you know a Texas drug task force officer, be especially nice to them today. Give them a hug, perhaps, a shoulder to lean on if they need to talk. It's kind of a rough time for them. You see, today the funding runs out for Texas' Tulia-style drug task forces - Governor Perry has shifted the money to the border and other priorities, leaving them to fend for themselves. There were 51 of these agencies in Texas just a few years ago, at their height employing about 700 narcotics officers. Now most are closing their doors.

The Texas Observer's March 24 issue has an article
by Tulia-author Nate Blakeslee on this stunning denouement entitled "End of an Era: The clock runs out on the state's infamous regional drug task forces." He quotes me pretty extensively and even cites Grits' role, calling it, "a clearinghouse for stories of task force malfeasance that Henson culled from small town newspapers and a variety of sources he had cultivated around the state, some of them in law enforcement. 'Grits' quickly became one of the most popular sites for criminal justice reform advocates, not just in Texas, but also in Washington, D.C.." That's a nice plug.

Nate gives me and ACLU of Texas executive director Will Harrell a lot of credit for the task forces' demise - especially for two ACLUTX public policy reports I authored, Too Far Off Task (2002) and Flawed Enforcement (2004) that exposed systemic task force flaws. But the truth is that hundreds of people from maybe a dozen or more different organzations were involved in the movement to end the drug task force system in Texas, which grew out of the organizing and research done in response to the Tulia episode.

At different points in time civil rights groups like NAACP and LULAC chipped in, as did the National Taxpayers Union, the Heritage Foundation and the Drug Policy Alliance in D.C.. Local groups like Tulia Friends of Justice played pivotal roles, along with national columnists like Arianna Huffington and Bob Herbert.
My friends at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition played a huge unsung role. Perhaps most of all, one cannot overstate the important role played by House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Terry Keel and his predecessor, now-Senator Juan Hinojosa: Both men saw the task forces' flawed structure and insisted on fixing it, coming back to the topic year after year.

In the end, few thought this outcome was possible. Closing Texas' task forces sends a powerful message: 'Drug war corruption won't be tolerated and if it can't be controlled, we'll shut you down.' In that sense it's a huge win, which is why I told the Observer:

"I consider getting rid of the task forces the political equivalent of Babe Ruth pointing to the right-field fence [before his famous home run]," he said. "We completely changed the way people think about drug enforcement in this state. We said all task forces need to go away, and in just a few years, they're all gone. You don't get many victories that look like that."
See Grits' full drug task force coverage.

21 comments:

SteveHeath said...

Didn't Ruth point to the center field fence?

Or maybe it was the right center power alley?

Oh yeah, I should add that I'm very pleased to see the DTF's funding shut down.

kaptinemo said...

IMHO, the problem now will be accelerated, aggressive use of civil forfeiture by police afencies against a larger number of civilians, as the only other alternative is to stump for raising taxes. I would venture a guess the likelihood of that happening is very small. Therefore, you may expect the use of 'sobriety checkpoints' to increase as a cover for doing so.

To fund the DrugWar now that Byrne Grants have been eliminated, the police have no alternatives.

Needless to say, this will lead to greater friction between police and civilians, causing even greater disaffection between the two groups. It may also lead to public calls for dismantling the forfeiture process locally, especially if a politically well-connected person becomes a recipient of it. This is going to get very ugly, very quickly...

It's almost axiomatic that the last time the drug laws came under public awareness and criticsm (the 1970's, resulting in a wave of decriminalization of cannabis in many States) was when the children of the middle- and upper classes became victims of the laws demonstrably meant to ensnare and politically neutralize (via voter disenfranchisement courtesy of a felony conviction) those considered to be lower class - and by tacit implication, inherently criminally inclined.

If anything will speed the day when the DrugWar is subjected to the kind of public scrutiny and debate it hasn't truly had yet, increased use - and abuse - of civil forfeiture might.

Anonymous said...

"If anything will speed the day when the DrugWar is subjected to the kind of public scrutiny and debate it hasn't truly had yet, increased use - and abuse - of civil forfeiture might."

For those of you not reading between the lines, the true agenda of this blog's attack on task force operations is the decriminalization of currently illegal drugs. Making marijuana, cocaine, heroin and meth legal to possess, buy and sell.

Congratulations on your biggest victory to date. You've done a great service to America (yeah, just a little sarcasm).

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Someone didn't get their hug!

Your beef is clearly with the conservative wing of the Republican Party, not this blog. I don't think it's fair to tar President Bush, Gov. Perry and the Heritage Foundation as favoring the "decriminalization of currently illegal drugs" just because they opposed funding task forces through the Byrne grant program.

Is it a political oddity that ACLU and civil rights groups wanted them closed, too? Sure, politics makes strange bedfellows. But mostly that's a testament to how problematic is the task force concept - everyone across the political spectrum has reason to dislike them.

Anonymous said...

"Someone didn't get their hug!"

Heheh, I get one regularly.

What is sad, however, is your need, in your conquering stupor, to make unnecessary personal attacks. Scott, do you really find it amusing to make light of the career issues some task force officers are having to endure?

We all understand your problem with the task force "concept", and that concept at work, but to make fun of individual officers, some of whom died trying to do nothing more than to protect you and yours, is absolutely pathetic.

However, I appreciate it when your true self appears in your blog. You see, you are just as accessible thanks to this blog as a government agency. The difference is, you wear your prejudices like a badge of honor. They are easy to find, track and quote.

So while the "concept" of the ACLU may be a good thing...I mean really, we should all be fighting for civil rights...your concept in practice is a sham. You have lain the groundwork for your demise, amigo, and you have nobody to blame but yourself.

No, no...not a veiled threat. Just an assurance that when someone out there quotes the mighty Scott Henson as an authority, they may soon find themselves privy to a handful of lies, fallacies, prejudices and poor decisions made by someone who, quite frankly, is full of himself.

We are all accountable, brother...all of us.

SteveHeath said...

Henson's common sense belief about the urgent need to end 21st century drug Prohibition policies is one embraced by a growing number of police, judges and others with long experience waging the futile and utterly ineffectual "War on Drugs".

The cops of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition recognize that one of the primary obstacles to ending drug Prohibition is the relatively small minority of cops who draw their salaries and who obtain a major portion of their agency funding from the continuation of Prohibition. Not much of anyone else is actively defending Prohibition.

Therefore, seeing these drug task forces be defunded is encouraging news for those cops and civilians who believe that drugs are best produced and distributed by licensed, regulated dealers instead of by unlicensed and completely unregulated criminal dealers.

More here http://leap.cc/tbay

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Anonymous, for somebody who dishes out a lot of crap in the comments to this blog, you've got awfully thin skin. Sorry if you lost your job, but I don't feel much like debating you this morning - your personal attacks combined with a lack of substantive argument in nearly every comment is becoming tiresome for me.

kaptinemo said...

Leaving aside the problems with things such as civil rights violations committed in the heat of pursuing the DrugWar, from a purely economic viewpoint, any and every government in the world has to prioritize its' budgeting. When a nation's economy goes from 'boom' to 'bust', adjustments have to be made. And the first things that get adjusted - or eliminated altogether - are the things that that country needs the least. In other words, if all you can afford is beanie-weenies, you don't buy Porterhouse steaks and Dom Perignon. We as a nation are fast getting to that point.

Byrne Grants were ushered in during a time of economic 'boom', when there seemingly was lots of loose change to spend on 'fighting drugs'; it was all the rage back then in order for politicians to appear 'tough on drugs' to justify by stumping for these things.

But the fallout from Tulia showed that the collateral costs of continuing such programs were more expensive than the grant's original price tag. Combine this with a number of things that have happened recently, such as Katrina cleanup and the Iraq War, and this nation is now back to having to pinch pennies. And forced to decide what gets the investment of those pennies.

That drug treatment program beds are less expensive than maintaining a cannabis offender in jail for a year is a given. That the legal fallout from the 'collateral damage' caused by drug task forces can be much more expensive than the grants, themselves, is now also proven a given. Perhaps it should be the people who are asked to foot the bill who get to decide if they want to run the risk? After all, it is their money...

hope said...

"...some of whom died...."

Prohibition killed them and many others and Prohibition has to be arrested.

Lots of things that people do can kill them. That's part of life. Some things we have to live with.

We don't have to live with a government created program that is the direct cause of those deaths.

Anonymous said...

Steve Heath:

"growing number of police, judges and others with long experience waging the futile and utterly ineffectual "War on Drugs"

I'm a retired DEA Agent and that's just not true. Anyone whose worked drug investigations knows that today's drug enforcement model is the biggest problem.

DEA spends more time subordinating their mission, getting along, forming task forces, and using their investigative tools as services instead of tools.

There are 50 little DEA's out there and when the lead agency with offices in 70 some countries is focused on the local effort, it's localized. Meaning, every SAC that I know of is more concerned with getting a HIDTA job so they can collect another 90K in addition to their retirement. HIDTA positions are picked by the state authorities so go figure.

Look at the HIDTA director positions and you'll see. DEA has the ability to have a tremendous impact on drug quantity, quality, and availability at the level they should be working at.

They're not and legalization may be a step just not the next step.

The solution isn't as difficult as it sounds. Hold everyone accountable for their level of enforcement and recognize that drug treatment and drug courts are essential for states.

Do away with asset sharing and use all of the proceeds to pay for the treatment and education. Then shit-can all of the DEA SAC's especially the ones under 45 and the ones who habitually lie with good facts. Deceit is rampant in that agency and if you "de-deceit" it, the problem will take care of itself.

Anonymous said...

My point exactly, Scott. You can dish it out and pat yourself on the back, but can't take much criticism. I had no trouble continuing in law enforcement now that the task force is gone. Still have a good job with good pay. I just don't like how you've misrepresented truth under the guise of the ACLU.

Nemo, what sort of economic "boom" are you referring to? 1986 was not a good year for our economy, so I'm wondering where this comes from. You're right, though. It is the money of the people and they should decide how to spend it.

"Prohibition killed them and many others and Prohibition has to be arrested."

Incredible. Based on this way of thinking, convenience store clerks who are murdered during robberies die because cash is kept in the register...so eliminate the cash, right?

When will you folks learn that the criminal is to blame, and not some long thought out philosophy that makes you feel better about yourselves? Misplaced responsibility helps nothing and promotes a nation looking for scapegoats.

But we all reap what we sow, and THAT is the lesson here.

Anonymous said...

"Based on this way of thinking, convenience store clerks who are murdered during robberies die because cash is kept in the register...so eliminate the cash, right?"

Yes! - that's why the sign in the 7-11 says clerks don't have access to more than $20, because if they don't have cash, they won't get shot over it.

Someone said...

I can think of a lot of things I'd rather give a dtf officer other than a hug.

Didn't the prohibition of alcohol teach anyone anything about the negative things that happen when you outlaw a substance. I just know that if we legalized drugs less kids would use them, and therefore less addicts would be in need of help down the line or in need of a bed in a prison they really don't belong in. And I for one really don't want to pay tax dollars to provide it for them.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@anonymous the task force cop: We do reap what we sow. IMO, that's a big reason why most of the task forces are gone today.

SteveHeath said...

I earlier cited: Henson's common sense belief about the urgent need to end 21st century drug Prohibition policies is one embraced by a growing number of police, judges and others with long experience waging the futile and utterly ineffectual "War on Drugs".


To which AnonymousExDEA guy replies: I'm a retired DEA Agent and that's just not true.

SH: What's not true?

Fact - The call to end drug prohibition is being made by a growing number of police, judges, prosecutors, DEA agents and others with long experience waging the so-called "Drug War".

LEAP has been speaking in public venues for over four years now, including a long list of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice professional conferences.

LEAP's direct membership has swelled to over 5000 members who have signed their name to one of our membership forms.

We've also done very careful analysis of LEOs who visit our booths at LE conferences, or who attend one of our public speaking presentations (Rotary Clubs, church groups, school groups).

10% of officers surveyed disagreed with our Mission Statement.

Just over 80% directly agreed with our Mission Statement.

The most common followup comment from those in the 80% was, "I thought I was the only cop who felt this way."

So I'll give AnonymousExDEA dude a hat tip and respect that he's being honest when he shares his own personal opinion as to the efficacy of Prohibition. He's obviously part of the 10%.

But my original citation stands unrefuted. "A growing number of police, judges and others with long experience in fighting the 'drug war' are calling for an end to drug prohibition.

====
On a side note, the testimony I've received from LEAP members who are also DEA or ex-DEA tell me that there is no more ineffectual law enforcement agency in North America with regards to satisfying their supposed mission.

And DEA is of course the most reprehensible cops in the USA due to their insistence on waging war against state-legal medical marijuana hospices and patients.

It takes a real pussy cop to roll up on a cancer patient in a hosptial bed and stick an automatic rifle in their face while decked out in the latest paramilitary gear.

I'm glad Anonymous is an "ex" DEA. Here's hoping he's found more worthy and useful employment and/or use of his time.

kaptinemo said...

Anonymous, it's not sheer coincidence that the War on Drugs picked up speed immediately after the Reagan arms buildup of the early to mid-1980's.

The priming of the military/industrial economic pump had it's own 'trickle-down' effects, especially after the Omnibus Anti-Crime Bill of 1986, with its' mandatory minimums, necessitating the prison construction boom that has lasted to about a couple years ago, when local and State governments began to cut back on spending due to the economy turning sour back in 2000.

Immediately after the failure of the Dot.coms in 1999/2000, it became evident that the financial burden of maintaining the prison construction boom was getting worse.

But social policies have inertia as do people themselves, and the trend continued, despite the worsening economy, further causing financial strains. So now things are so tight that we have States who are letting their non-violent good behavior prisoners loose long before their release dates, to make room for more violent offenders.

So, some questions have to be asked: if they were safe enough to release, why did we have to spend money to incarcerate them in the first place? What was the point? Who did it benefit? Who does it benefit still? The answers go a long way to explaining the DrugWar in general...

kaptinemo said...

I forgot to add that the vast majority of those released prisoners were were drug law offenders.

Economic ups-and-downs happen all the time. But the premise surrounding the past 20 years regarding DrugWar spending was that there would never be a bottoming out, that the spending would go on and on. That spending on the Drugwar was a sacred cow that could never be touched.

But the economic realties are fast catching up to the 'lock 'em up and throw away the key!' ideology for the mandatory minimums. That idea was predicated upon always having enough money to maintain the prisons. Which we decidedly don't anymore. The chickens hatched 20 years ago are coming home to roost, and we can't really pay for new coops, anymore.

Anonymous said...

Heath:

I'm retired and ex so I don't have to do anything. But since you asked, I'm in law school and I intend to use my background and law school for change; just not your change.

"It takes a real pussy cop to roll up on a cancer patient in a hosptial bed and stick an automatic rifle in their face while decked out in the latest paramilitary gear"

DEA Agents train like this to apprehend very violent, and large scale drug traffickers. I know you don't. This is not what they trained for and you made my point for me. They have no business doing that and most of them know it.

Secondly, to understand this, look at some recent newspaper articles in Dallas, TX where 4 DEA Agents sat in a van while a swat team served their search warrant. One of the swat guys shot the other swat guy so why did 4 DEA Agents sit in a van while others don paramilitary gear and raid cancer patients.

Do yourself a favor. Focus on DEA. It's a wealth of lies, deceit, and inconsistency. It's the mother ship of the problem. DEA is a single mission agency and if that mission goes away so do they. Think about that.

Finally, saying your ranks have swelled and using conference samples to say it is akin to voodoo. I don't like this drug war but I don't want to legalize drugs. Your group and me have similar ideas but different solutions. Your group is a better alternative than the status quo and that may be really why other law enforcement officers attend the conference.

DEA is completely ineffective but it's the lead agency and it serves as the national model. If you want to get the King, aim for the head.

Anonymous said...

"Yes! - that's why the sign in the 7-11 says clerks don't have access to more than $20, because if they don't have cash, they won't get shot over it."

Unbelievable. Blame the money rather than the criminal. Make the world a safer place by regulating everything...but whatever you do don't criminalize it. How's that for a liberal agenda? That sign is meant to deter crime, not shift responsibility from "some poor guy just down on his luck making a poor choice because the evil money tempted him".

"@anonymous the task force cop: We do reap what we sow. IMO, that's a big reason why most of the task forces are gone today."

I agree. There were enough problems with the task force system as it existed. I don't believe the current solution is the right one. However, my earlier point was that you were being an ass about the "victory".

SteveHeath said...

ANONEXDEA: Do yourself a favor. Focus on DEA. It's a wealth of lies, deceit, and inconsistency. It's the mother ship of the problem. DEA is a single mission agency and if that mission goes away so do they. Think about that.

SH: I completely concur. The DEA and their relatives at ONDCP (primarily pencil pushing white collar types) are about all that's keeping up public opinion supporting Prohibition.


As for my note and your response about "law enforcement officers attending our (LEAP's) conference" - the conferences I referred to were not "LEAP" sponsored events, but rather were State Police Conferences, National Sheriffs Assn Conference, IACP National Conventions etc.

Thus those in attendance were not coming in response to LEAP, but instead came in normal course of professional education/networking and encountered our message at a display booth or from hearing one of our Speakers present to the main conference.

Thanks for the feedback.

Anonymous said...

All that I have to say is that I feel bad for thoses officers who are now out of work. Not all were bad (as you implied).

Besides, it's not the end. Many departments are forming private narcotics divisions now. That's better in my opinion anyway.

I bet you would feel differently if you were an officer who is now trying to find a way to take care his family after losing his job.