Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Homeless drug task force looks for handouts

While I spent all day yesterday in a long Texas Senate hearing in Houston, Lauri at Tres Chicas was pinch hitting for Grits, providing the blogosphere with the latest drug task force coverage. That's veeeery cool, thank you!

She points to this article in The Highlander, which reports that the town of Marble Falls has pulled out as lead agency of the 33rd Judicial District Narcotics Enforcement Team (NET). For non-Texans, Marble Falls is a small town upstream from Austin on the Colorado River in the Texas Hill Country.

The Highlander reports that District Attorney Sam Oatman led an "entourage" to the Llano County Commissioners Court Dec. 28 to plead with them to take over the task force. He told them that the era of "free lance undercover agents," like in Tulia, is over thanks to new DPS oversight. (Apparently he didn't read the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee report that concluded, "The authority of DPS to monitor and enforce [its] policies is questionable.")

Even so, it doesn't sound like the Llano County Sheriff, who must sign off on such an agreement, will be biting: "You know how I feel about it," [said] Llano County Sheriff Nathan Garrett who complained that for several months he had gotten no support from the team. "I think we ought to take the $14,000 that we've got and hire an officer to do the work ourselves."

DPS lieutenant Jose Portillo used scare tactics to push the idea, insensibly arguing that the region was overrun with drug crime:
"If we follow statistics, eight to 10 percent of the population is involved with drugs," said Portillo. That's seven or eight thousand people in these four counties." We're talking, by the way, about a mostly rural area. Those stats imply that Lt. Portillo sees the task force's role as prosecuting low-level drug users, not criminal organizations. That's the kind of bad strategy that got them in trouble in Tulia, and that has prompted charges of racial profiling in Palestine.

Tres Chicas notes,
"In the past year the Panhandle Task Force, plus task forces in Laredo, Lubbock, San Antonio, Denton, and other Texas cities have either split apart or lost their primary big-city sponsorship. One of the main reasons for this trend is that cities are scared that, in the event of a Tulia taking place in their local task force's jurisdiction, they'll have to shell out cash to compensate victims. Task forces have also become expensive operations in terms of insurance coverage, due to the potential for scandal and other problems."


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