Saturday, February 05, 2005

Unaccountable drug task forces boost liability everywhere

Texas' Byrne-grant-funded drug task force system earned a black eye with cases like those in Tulia, Hearne and Palestine, but Grits has been documenting their problems in other states to show they're not just a Texas concern. Two recent stories bear that out:

In California, the state agency that administered federal Byrne grants was abolished after audits revealed money flows couldn't be documented for tens of millions in grants, reported the San Jose Mercury News yesterday. The agency was,
so plagued with accounting problems that it was impossible to audit and tens of millions of dollars in future funds could be in jeopardy, state auditors said.
Auditors looking into the Office of Criminal Justice Planning found incomplete and inaccurate paperwork a year after the agency was abolished because of leadership problems and poor business practices.

"In my 30 years experience, this is the worst thing I've ever seen," Samuel Hull, chief of state audits, said Wednesday. "When we got into there and started looking at things ... the problems just kept ballooning."
The problems are so bad they might jeopardize the state's receipt of new federal crime-fighting funds.

That sounds awfully similar to a situation here in Texas. In 2002, a state auditor found that Governor Perry's Criminal Justice Division, which oversees distribution of Texas' Byrne grant money, had either improperly paid out our failed to justify $15.6 million in federal grant funds. The year before, the head of the Criminal Justice Division was demoted for spending grant money on gifts and taking kickbacks from drug task forces in the form of impounded cars he drove as personal vehicles. (See p. 5 of this report, pdf).

Meanwhile, in Iowa, an unarmed man was killed by a drug task force officer in a December raid. The task force broke into his home on a no-knock warrant and gunned him down while he watched TV. According to the Des Moines Register:
the investigation into another western Iowa police shooting continued Thursday. Mills County Attorney Marci Prier said she still was awaiting toxicology reports from the Division of Criminal Investigation before deciding whether to hand the case to grand jurors.

In that Dec. 29 shooting, Brett Pace, a rural Mills County man suspected of weapons violations, was unarmed when law officers burst into his home and shot him twice in the chest. Pace, 46, had been watching television, officials said.

Council Bluffs Police Officer Tim Fullmer, who was part of a drug task force that had gone to Pace's home, fired the fatal shots, investigators said.
One wonders why toxicology screens might matter when an unarmed man is shot sitting in front of his television? If the man had drugs in his system, for example, could that possibly justify his death?

Beyond that, since these types of incidents recur so often with these type of pseudo-agencies, one wonders how it's possible to justify their continuation? Unaccountable funding, tragic policy outcomes -- it's really true that Byrne task forces aren't just a Texs problem.

The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in December recommended abolishing Texas' drug task force system.

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