Critics say the task forces, because of their unique cross-jurisdictional structure, enjoy virtually unchecked law enforcement power that has been abused in the past and remain unaccountable for how they spend their money.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas in 2002 issued a report cataloguing 17 scandals involving Byrne-funded task forces in the state, including the imprisonment of more than three dozen African-Americans in Tulia, Texas, based on the uncorroborated testimony of a single, white undercover agent. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) in 2003 pardoned 35 of the defendants and authorities later shifted funding away from all Byrne-financed drug task forces in the state.
Now, as Congress reconciles the differences in the House and Senate versions of Obama’s stimulus plan, critics of the Byrne grants say lawmakers should remember incidents like the one in Tulia, Texas, as they consider police funding.
“It’s happening right now, today, in other states. There’s not a doubt in my mind,” said Scott Henson, the former ACLU of Texas official who authored the 2002 report and who favors eliminating the Byrne grant program. Byrne-funded drug task forces, Henson said, are “federally funded, state-managed and locally staffed — which means they’re accountable to no one.”
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