Friday, December 10, 2004

Another one bites the dust

The Independence Narcotics Task Force will break up next year, joining the growing list of failed Byrne-grant funded drug task forces in Texas, starting with the one from the infamous Tulia drug stings. In the wake of the INTF break-up, Burleson County plans to join the Brazos Valley Narcotics Task Force, leaving Washington County no longer benefitting from Byrne grant funds.

The Brenham Banner Press reported that the Texas Department of Public Safety pressured the two counties to merge with the Brazos Valley task force based in Bryan. That task force needed bolstering after College Station PD pulled out earlier this year.

Local officals balked. The drug task force concept in Washington County began with a partnership with Brazos County, the Brenham chief told the Banner-Press, and it was "one which didn't work well." Instead, Washington County will operate its own freestanding drug unit without federal funds. The chief said it will work better to have officers under local control:
"Now we'll have more flexibility in using our people -- officer's [sic] (tied to the INTF grant) weren't available for other assignments."

Governor Perry ordered DPS nearly three years ago to assume "command and control" over the task forces as a result of the Tulia case and other scandals, but to date that hasn't really happened. The push for small task forces to merge into regional ones was the agency's first concrete attempt exert its authority statewide, along with new and widely ignored rules that would organize drug interdiction efforts around targeting criminal organizations instead of low level users.

Many local agencies resisted these moves toward professionalization, choosing insteead to forego Byrne grant funds. So far, around 50 Texas counties that received Byrne grant funding for task forces last year won't receive any next year, including 25 of the 26 from the Tulia task force. (The only county in the entire High Plains region any longer benefitting from Byrne grant funds is Swisher County, where the Tulia stings occurred. They'll receive $57,000 to prosecute former undercover task force cop Tom Coleman for perjury.)

Washington County should apply in January for Byrne money to open a drug court.

Another one bites the dust.