Saturday, April 06, 2013

Elimination of drug task forces a blessing in disguise from sequester cuts

Long-time readers know that Texas eliminated its statewide system of drug task forces - funded through the federal Byrne grant program - in the wake of the Tulia drug scandal and repeated improprieties at other task forces. The Legislature in 2005 put them under control of the Department of Public Safety, which found them unmanageable. Then Governor Perry in 2006 decided to eliminate task force funding and shift that federal grant money to other priorities like specialty courts and border security. Most states, though, still spend all or part of the portion of the Byrne grants distributed as block grants on networks of locally staffed "regional narcotics task forces" which in many cases have operated on the federal dime for more than two decades.

Having already been cut in recent years, the sequester has resulted in plans for Byrne grants to be radically reduced over the next decade. has a story about drug task force systems in other states shutting down as a result. Give it a read. Their account of Texas' decision to eliminate task forces at the end of the story is a bit off on the finer details, but in general it's correct that the Tulia scandal launched a rethinking of the drug task force system by the Legislature and the Governor that resulted in their demise.

The flip side of Stateline's task force story is that, in Texas, the loss of grant funds due to the sequester will affect those specialty court, treatment, training, and border security programs where the Governor's Criminal Justice Division shifted the money. While Grits would hate to see treatment and specialty court dollars go away, I consider most of the border-security pork misspent and in general I don't think it especially proper, under principles of federalism, for the national government to fund local courts or law enforcement. So it won't bother me a lot if Byrne grants become a permanent casualty of the sequester.

The drug task force network was a mess in Texas and I bet other states will find, just like we did, that once they're gone, their absence will solve more problems than it creates.

See a sampling of the many past Grits posts on Byrne grants and drug task forces

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