Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Harris Commissioners: Fix crime lab, fund drug courts, ditch Baytown PD

Baytown Police Department is the lead agency in the Harris County Organized Crime and Narcotics Task Force, now that the Harris County Sheriff has pulled its officers. (The drug task force operates on a $3.5 million annual "Byrne grant," like the one in Tulia, that could be spent instead on things like drug courts, drug treatment, probation programs, or, most urgently upgrades in forensic science facilities.) That's the same bunch of Keystone Cops who stormed a local contractor this summer to seize his hibiscus. In 2002, Baytown PD made national headlines after Louis Torres was beaten to death on videotape by four Baytown police officers who were neither indicted nor disciplined. Check out what was said about them in an Amnesty International report on Taser use.

Harris County Commissioners Court must decide in January whether to re-apply for Byrne grant funds for the drug task force, which basically means handing the money over lock-stock-and-barrel to the Baytown police chief, or whether to request the $3.5 million to pay for other things the county needs. That amount would allow Harris County to pay for its lagging, underfunded drug courts, upgrade its nationally disgraced forensics lab, and maybe down the line help finance the launch of a public defender's office. There's only five of them, so just three commissioners would have to be convinced to ditch the task force and use Byrne grant money for other stuff.

You'd think they'd be happy to shed their liability for Baytown's renegade department. In Tulia,
Amarillo paid $5 million for their error in letting the Swisher County Sheriff's Department run loose on the feds' dime.

For a list of other programs federal law allows the county to spend Byrne grant money on, see page five of
this report (pdf).

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