Texas state district judges: 1997-2011
Why do local agencies need this authority when right now they hardly ever use wiretaps? At last week's House Criminal Jurisprudence meeting there was a telling exchange when the committee heard essentially similar legislation to SB 188 from state Rep. Gene Wu. Committee member Matt Schaefer asked a Houston police detective, who said this bill would let him do more wiretaps, how many times HPD had requested a DPS wiretap last year. He replied that HPD had not requested any because they knew DPS was too "busy." DPS, however, has never turned down an agency that asked them to perform a wiretap if they've got the proper orders from their local judge. The argument seems to be, "If we didn't have to go through DPS we'd do more of them." But why? Can they credibly say that without having even tried going through the existing legal mechanisms?
The other big complaint was that, right now, local PDs often have to ask the feds for assistance when they need a wiretap. But so what? Is that really a terrible thing? Let the feds do their thing. They're a lot better equipped to do those sorts of labor-intensive investigations, anyway. But if Texas agencies aren't even using their current wiretapping authority, why expand it?
This bill amounts to a solution looking for a problem. If Houston PD had received judicial approval for a wiretap and DPS was unable to implement it, that'd be one thing. But if it's just to give them a leg up in some bureaucratic turf war with the feds, or to keep from having to involve DPS, those don't seem like very good reasons to let the big local PDs have this authority.
MORE (Monday, April 29): See written testimony I submitted to the committee against the bill.