Friday, February 27, 2015

Lies, damn lies and drug war statistics: DPS edition

The Austin American Statesman reported (Feb. 26) that the Texas Department of Public Safety inflated prices of seized drugs ten-fold just before issuing a pivotal report on its border "surge" to legislators. Reported  Kiah Collier and Jeremy Schwartz:
The agency now uses 2012 data based on national retail sales compiled by the White House; it previously had used 2014 Drug Enforcement wholesale prices specific to Texas.

As a result of the new accounting methodology, the agency said that more than $1.8 billion in illegal drugs had been seized during Operation Strong Safety, the state’s enhanced law enforcement effort in the Rio Grande Valley that began last summer.

Under its previous illegal drug price formula, the seizures would have been worth about $161 million, less than one-tenth of the figure presented to the Legislature and state leaders.
Experts in the story explained why the number DPS used previously is more accurate:
many criminologists say describing bulk seizures with retail-level prices presents a skewed picture of the value of the drugs when they were seized.

Peter Reuter, a senior economist with the RAND Corporation and criminology professor at the University of Maryland, said wholesale prices better measure the impact of the seizures on criminal organizations. “It’s more important to get a sense of the cost you have imposed on the traffickers,” he said. “But (higher retail prices) sound better. I don’t think it’s more complicated than that.”

Jonathan Caulkins, a professor of Operations Research and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, said many law enforcement agencies use retail prices because they are higher, but that “it would be more logical to value at the replacement cost for the organization.”
Still, I think this gives a good baseline for evaluating DPS' assertions of success in its border surge. Take what they claim to have done, divide it by ten, and you'll come close to assessing the real impact of their spurious, redundant border work. The idea that Texas would spend $815 million more on this boondoggle beggars belief. But we're in a through-the-looking-glass moment when failure is success and money apparently is no object. It remains to be seen whether state leadership cares at all about how this money is spent. So far, they seem perfectly willing to throw good money after bad without, apparently, caring a whit about whether it's worth the bang for the buck.

RELATED: Border surge didn't cause drop in crossings.


albeed said...

"So far, they seem perfectly willing to throw good money after bad without, apparently, caring a whit about whether it's worth the bang for the buck."

Sort of reminds me of the body counts during the news coverage of the Vietnam war, only this time by the Drug Warriors.

We lost that war, ... and much more.

Anonymous said...

I'd really like to blame the idiots in charge of DPS for this kind of embellishment but I am certain they were directed to do so as a way of shoring up support by those in the governor's office and/or legislature. Lest we believe this approach to value drugs seized is anything new, just look at how the DEA and other major cities jumped on board using street value many years ago, few questioning the practice until more people start showing a reticence for spending ever increasing amounts on things they just don't care about.

If some druggie is out robbing people, send him away using a real time formula until he's old and gray. If someone is involved in a hit and run tests positive for drugs, again, lock them up. Same for other offenses rather than mere harmless possession or personal use. Legalize the drug while enhancing the penalty for crimes committed under the influence; the European model.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The only way to make comparisons of year to year drug interdiction is to compare actual weight seizures, not prices. The way LE agencies calculate drug values is inflated (always has been).

Anonymous said...

$815 million.

Meanwhile in a Taco, Taco, Taco men's restroom one DPS trooper waved his hand under the stall wall and tapped his foot twice. The other DPS trooper responded with three taps and a burp that could have been misconstrued as a fart.

The DPS secrete handshake code book page 3 indicates that they said the following.

Stall #1 - It's Taxpayers money and everyone knows how stupid those people are.

Stall #2 - Dumb asses will believe anything, I mean anything. My neighbors believe I'm a veteran with the CIA and the DPS uniform is my cover.

Anonymous said...

It is a sad day, when we can no longer trust anyone in the state agencies. The low paid state employees are all rotten little rule breakers, because the people are the top are self serving criminals.