One of the last remaining Tulia-style drug task forces, the North Texas task force had hoped to continue operations based solely on asset forfeitures and funds seized from drug interdiction on the highways. As media everywhere publish their year-end retrospectives (Grits' own feature on the Top Ten Texas Criminal Justice Stories of 2007 will appear tomorrow), we find news from the local daily that the task force couldn't make their budget just by seizing funds. Reported the Times Record News ("Top stories of the year," Dec. 29):
The two reasons given by the Times Record News for the task force's closure deserve closer attention. It's certainly true that Governor Rick Perry eliminated funding for Texas drug task forces in 2006, shifting the money to pay for border security grants to 16 Sheriff's departments along the Rio Grande, an initiative which itself has met with mixed results. That's what caused the North Texas Drug Task Force to venture out on its own, attempting to operate based on forfeiture funds.
The North Texas Regional Drug Task Force closed down in 2007, victim of budget cuts. The consortium of law officers had served 23 counties in drug investigations. The Texas Legislature curtailed its funding of regional task forces and federal grant money was diverted to other purposes.
Another factor was the trend of drug traffickers to choose methamphetamine over cocaine, which resulted in lower cash seizures by the task force.
City and county governments chipped in enough money to keep the task force, which operated out of the Wichita Falls Police Department, running though 2007. But the money wasn’t available for 2008. The task force officers were absorbed into WFPD or other agencies.
But the second reason given explains why THAT plan failed: "the trend of drug traffickers to choose methamphetamine over cocaine, which resulted in lower cash seizures." The narco-warriors simply couldn't make enough money through asset forfeiture to make the special unit worthwhile.
Fighting crime should not be a for-profit enterprise, which is what they tried to turn this task force into in Wichita Falls. It's one thing to occasionally benefit from asset forfeiture funds, and quite another to rely upon them routinely for one's annual budget. It was a bad idea from the start and I'm pleased, if unsurprised, to discover that it failed.
When the Tulia scandal broke in 1999, Texas had more than 50 of these regional drug task forces. With the demise of the Wichita Fallas TF, we're down to four, none of them any longer receiving federal Byrne grant funds. The fate of these task forces, perhaps especially the one in Wichita Falls, represents an important step in the ongoing shift in thinking in Texas about how best to combat harms from drug abuse and trafficking.