Sunday, November 14, 2004

Spend Byrne Grant Money on Other Good Stuff

A judge from East Texas replied thusly via email to my post below about drug task forces:

"While I am against task forces generally because of the severe lack of supervision and the questionable tactics that I've observed, I am not for turning down Texas' share of Byrne grant funds. Those funds need to be used for treatment centers and for drug courts to try the major offenders, not these little eight-ball cases."

Thanks, Judge. I agree completely. Proposals by Rep. Terry Keel and others at the Legislature to abolish the task forces would have simply forbidden spending money on them. But Texas would still get Byrne grant money, and could spend it on things local government really needs like drug treatment, probation services, specialized domestic violence units, and juvenile justice resources. LULAC proposed shifting Byrne grant money to those types of services in their recent report.

(For a list of other programs for which local governments can apply for Byrne grant money in lieu of drug task forces, see page 5 of the May 2004 report, Flawed Enforcement, authored by yours truly on behalf of ACLU of Texas.)


Narcotics said...

Dear Sir or Maddam,
I have read your comments and have many concerns that arise from your comments. I have several questions for you to help me understand your position on drug task forces. One comment that was made,"Those funds need to be used for treatment centers and for drug courts to try the major offenders, not these little eight-ball cases." I have been enforcing narcotics laws in Texas for nine years. Of these nine years of enforcing these laws, the people that have completed a treatment for narcotics and have stayed off the substance for a lifetime is by far a minority. Secondly, how many police departments and sheriffs offices do you know that can dedicate the man power to catch the "major offenders" that you have mentioned? I know of none. The Task Forces were originated to assist rural law enforcement with ongoing problem of narcoitcs in their coverage areas. In some towns that are covered by Task Forces there is little to no law enforcement, other than maybe one patrol officer on patrol. The reason there are these "little eight-ball" cases in your court is due to a Task Force doing what was requested by a membering agency. Put your self in an administrators shoes, complaints are coming in from concerned citizens about an area of drug sales. The adminstrator does not have the man power that is trained in this area, nor have the financial backing for the training, specialized equipment, buy money, paying informants etc. I know you have concerns and ideas to address these problems and I would encourage you to speak to the administration of a Task Force in your area. It just is a scare to think that someone of such a high position doesn't realize the impact that your comments could make on counties and communities throughout or State. I know that there are some Task Forces that may have been poorly supervised, but as a whole these operations have seized literally thousands of pounds of narcotics and have assisted our communities in keeping our children away from a dead end road. I would be willing to speak to you personally in an effort to make sure you have all the facts, not just a headline from a bad apple!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks, Narcotics, I've passed your note along to the judge. If I may say so, though, your comments appear, to use the word recently popularized by Albert Gonzalez regarding the Geneva Conventions, a bit "quaint." It's not just one or two "bad apples," now, but many. See page 5 of this report and page 13 of this one for, between them, a partial list. (I know the judge is well aware of all those cases; were you?) Neither the judge nor I live in a county that any longer has a Byrne task force, so we couldn't ask our local commander. (In my case, Travis County's "Capital-Area" task force folded after a couple of civilians and one sheriff's deputy were killed in separate blown police raids.)Today, huge swaths of the state don't get Byrne grant money because they don't have task forces, and the ones remaining are imploding right and left.

Meanwhile, everybody, apparently, but the narcotics cops themselves are starting to understand that the state can't afford the failed strategy of busting low level drug users with no end in sight.

Rather than "the impact [the judge's] comments could make," if I were you I'd blame the U.S. Congress, which just slashed Byrne grants by 24%. It could have been worse. George Bush proposed abolishing the program entirely in each of his first four presidential budgets despite intense opposition. I understand he plans to spend the next four years spending his political capital to enact his agenda. Good luck.;-)

Thanks for the comment, though, seriously. Come back and visit anytime.

SoTexOfc said...

Funny how the entire local drug strategy is demonized based solely on anecdotes. "Many bad apples"? It's too bad that an effort hasn't been made to calculate just how many enforcement instances, at the hands of task force officers, have resulted in no apple spoiling. Hmm...let's see. Approximately 15 years with about 45 task forces in Texas alone...and the anecdotes amount to a couple of dozen, give or take...and the enforcement actions number, well, in the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS?!?!

Looks like task force offices are operating at a cleaner rate than the U.S. military, the Catholic Church and professional sports athletes, to name a few.

Of course, that's just my version of an anecdote, but I'd wager hard facts would support my claim, much to the chagrin of the Terry sisters in our state legislature.

You'd have a good argument minus the fallacy.