Friday, May 27, 2005

Signs of a drug war shift?

The Christian Science Monitor's Kris Axtman looks to Texas and sees signs of a shift in drug war tactics in an article published today. Reported Axtman:
Evidence is beginning to build that the approach to the war on drugs in the United States could be changing - by shifting attention away from small-time drug dealers and individual users toward major drug traffickers.

The nation's drug czar, for one, has alluded to changes in thinking. "Break the business," said John Walters at a congressional hearing earlier this year. "Don't break generation after generation [of poor, minority young men], is what we're going for." ...

"The issue is how do we best reduce the supply of drugs in the United States at the national and at the local and regional levels," [Walters] said, concluding that unless there is a shift in the fundamental approach, "you are chasing primarily small people, putting them in jail, year after year, generation after generation."

Walters was referring to hundreds of drug task forces funded nationwide by the federal Byrne grant program. The Bush administration, which has proposed zeroing out their budget, obviously thinks it's time for a different approach. Axtman reports that some on the Right believe homeland security spending requirements provide an opportunity to encourage a sort of new federalism where the feds play less of a role funding local law enforcement.

"There is a growing philosophical shift that the federal government shouldn't fund the daily operating expenses of local law enforcement," says David Muhlhausen, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "They had gotten into paying officers' salaries that local communities should be paying for, and now they realize they need to focus their efforts in more urgent areas like homeland security and defense."

In 2002, Dr. Muhlhausen did a study of the Byrne grant program and found "no evidence that these grants work to reduce crime."

The article also mentioned the Tulia corroboration law just filed in Congress, and Texas legislation already passed and sent to the Governor establishing new oversight for drug task forces. She even quoted some schmuck from the Texas ACLU:

"The structure of these task forces is so flawed that they create more problems than they solve," says Scott Henson, director of the Police Accountability Project for the ACLU of Texas. "They are federally funded, state managed, and locally staffed. There is no accountability."

But then, who'd believe that guy? More credible, surely, is Mr. Muhlhausen, who attributes the Bush administration's position on Byrne grants to the Tulia scandal:

"I think the administration is realizing that what is a state and local responsibility isn't good fiscal policy" at the federal level, he says. And because the Tulia incident occurred while Mr. Bush was still governor of Texas, he adds, the president is "uniquely positioned to understand how this [Byrne grant] money has been misspent."
About 5,000 people live in Tulia, TX. How astonishing the repercussions from what happened there are still altering the national debate. It's heartening to think some good, ultimately can come from the reaction to that unhappy episode.

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