Monday, April 02, 2007

UPDATE: 5 Texas drug task forces still operative

Are Tulia-style drug task forces making a comeback, I asked on Saturday? Maybe not.

I'd noticed perusing the most recent Texas Register (the missus has accused me of inordinate geekery for my Saturday morning habit of skimming that document) a new Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Public Safety and the Governor's office that authorized information sharing to manage drug task forces. So today I called Patrick O'Burke, Deputy Commander of the Department of Public Safety's Narcotics Division to find out what was going on.

He'd already seen the Grits item and told me the MOU was nothing new, that it was something they were required to do under the Texas Administrative Code annually. O'Burke also corrected a mistake I and quite a few reporters have made when I've said that Tulia-style drug task forces were defunct after the Governor shifted their funding to border security. O'Burke said that five multi-county task forces decided to continue, mostly using accumulated asset forfeiture funds but also with local dollars. (Under HB 1239 from the 79th Legislature, all multi-county drug task forces are under DPS' "command and control," regardless of their funding source.)

Just a few years ago there were more than 50 such task forces.

The five remaining task forces that report to DPS, he said, are based in Marble Falls, Bell County, Abilene, Chambers County, and Wichita Falls. (Multi-agency "task forces" all within one county aren't under DPS jurisdiction, he noted.) O'Burke said he was completing those 5 task forces' evaluations now, so maybe in a few weeks we'll get them under an open records request and see what's going on with them. Of these he said, he thought Marble Falls might have received a small amount of federal grant funds from the Governor, but that the rest were funded entirely from local resources, espeically asset forfeiture income.

DPS Narcotics for some time has been pushing for Texas drug enforcement to focus more on major organizations instead of small-time arrests. O'Burke said he was pleased that DPS Narcotics' renewed focus on higher end drug organizations was paying off. His agency's arrests were down 40% last year, he said, but drug seizures doubled because of the focus on bigger fish. He also said they'd created a new designation for targets called "end user," with an assumption that these folks need treatment and that public safety doesn't benefit from their aggressive prosecution compared to focusing on the kingpins.

So bottom line, rumors of the final demise of Tulia-style drug task forces were greatly exaggerated. But today they seem like an anachronism. They are no longer Texas' principal narcotics enforcement strategy, or even an important part of it.


Anonymous said...

Suggestion: Ask them if any of them are currently participating in any FEDERAL DRUG TASK FORCES (OCDETF, HIDTA, FBI, DEA, or ICE).

If they are, counties don't matter because the federal deputization lets them go where they want.

Sometimes they're federal sometimes they're county and they can use either one when they want.

There's no way they can exist without federal forfeiture money because the feds, especially DEA, will adopt a state forfeiture and give the local agency back 80%; keeping only 20% for processing.

It's called adoptions and it's public information. DEA uses stats that aren't theirs and gives the money back. In most states you need a turnover order from the local DA but they're usually in cohoots with the cops and split the money 40/40 to keep it among themselves.

If arrests are down and seizures are up, some federal agency is taking those seizure stats as their own/in exchange for processing their money. Bet on it.

Anonymous said...

BY the way this is when the real abuse starts because asset forfeiture is a civil proceeding requiring only a preponderance of the evidence. Before long they serve a search warrant knowing the probable cause is slim to seize money. I warned you about this and it sounds like that's exactly where it's going.