Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Harris County Residents Take Action: End Task Force Before Another Tulia

As Tom Coleman's perjury trial continues this morning, a few Texans have an opportunity to directly help get rid of our corrupt drug task force system. ACLU is asking Harris County residents to contact their elected officials, urging them to spend federal Byrne grant funding on drug treatment and crime lab improvements instead of the county drug task force.

ACLU's action alert, reproduced below, urges the Sheriff and County Judge to not re-authorize the local drug task force, and to spend Byrne money instead on more productive approaches. Please send the alert to any and all Harris County friends lists (through January 21). Please do not send it to statewide, national, or non-Harris-County lists.

ACLU hopes public awareness from the Coleman perjury trial will help push Harris County decisionmakers over the top on this subject, since they already need Byrne grant money for other stuff like crime labs and drug courts.

The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee recommended getting rid of drug task forces in December, so if Harris County doesn't act now, the Legislature may do it for them. For more detail see this Grits post on the topic, and ACLU's testimony to the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee on using Byrne funds to fix the crime lab problem.

Here's the text of ACLU's email alert.

Urge Harris County Officials to Better Use Federal Criminal Justice Grant Money

Harris County gets $3.5 million in federal "Byrne grant" funds each year and uses it to finance the dysfunctional Harris County Organized Crime and Narcotics Task Force, which is run out of the scandal-ridden Baytown Police Department. This money could and should be used for other law enforcement purposes: drug courts, drug treatment programs, probation services, or even to finance improvements in Houston’s poorly run crime labs.

Just this summer the task force conducted a full-blown raid on a Harris County home based on aerial observation of "marijuana" that turned out to be hibiscus. The Baytown Police Department also has a history of brutality and accountability problems.

Take Action! Harris County residents (only) should urge the Sheriff and the County Judge to pull out of the drug task force, and urge them to use Byrne grant money instead for drug courts and forensic science improvements.

If you live in Harris County, click here for more information and to take action.

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