Sunday, November 14, 2004

TX Drug Task Force Support Dwindling

I'd missed that the College Station Police Department pulled out of the Brazos Valley Narcotics Task Force in September, but their wise decision got me thinking about the now-long list of local governments distancing themselves from Byrne grant-funded drug task forces recently.

Among major cities, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio no longer participate in drug task forces.

In Harris County, the Harris County sheriff pulled its officers out of the program last year, leaving it to be run by the Baytown PD (Baytown Sun, 9-13-03, no longer on web), an agency with an
ugly history of brutality. Fort Worth has its own narcotics unit and doesn't need its task force. Only El Paso relies on its area task force for drug enforcement to any major degree among Texas' largest cities.

Amarillo and 26 Panhandle counties
disbanded the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Task Force this year as part multi-million dollar court settlement from the Tulia civil cases.

Lubbock PD pulled out of the South Plains Narcotics Task Force because of Tulia-related increases in insurance premiums and fears about liability for officers they didn't hire and control.

The towns of
Jacksonville and Alto in Cherokee County pulled out of the Dogwood Trails task force in Northeast Texas last year after a botched drug raid on the wrong house. Jacksonville had been forking over $26,000 per year for the task force, which it's now trying to make up with asset forfeiture income. Indeed, Cherokee County itself nearly pulled out, which would have ended the task force. Two of five Cherokee county commissioners voted to get out of the task force because they weren't getting their fair share of drug enforcement. After the recent busts, which drew questions about racial profiling after 72 black people were charged as crack dealers, that concern must be growing: not one of the 72 arrests was made in Cherokee County.

The town of Mineral Wells pulled out of the Cross Timbers task force earlier this year, reported the Mineral Wells Index (4-14-04, no longer online). Mineral wells officials expressed reservations regarding the task force's "management style," and "serious leadership problems accompanied by lax controls on the agents' daily activities and petty office jealousies that got out of hand."

In September, the
Texas Observer noted a couple of other task forces heading south. The North Central Texas task force, covering Denton and Grayson counties north of Dallas, closed down after allegations they'd traded leniency in plea bargains for defendants' acquiescence to asset forfeiture claims -- in essence, trading leniency for cash and prizes. And the City of Laredo pulled out of the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force as the primary grantee this summer, and the grant was taken over by the Webb County Sheriff. They feared liability and decided the task force detracted from more important efforts.

At some point, the inevitable logic of political geography should take over -- when a large enough number of politicians at the Texas statehouse no longer benefit from Byrne-grant funded pork barrel money in their district because they don't have a task force, perhaps the state will abandon this failed strategy entirely to embrace a fairer allocation of funds. To judge by the local exodus, we may have reached that critical mass in the 79th Texas Legislature in 2005.


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