Friday, May 20, 2005

Task forces get more supervision instead of the axe

Texas drug task forces narrowly averted abolition this legislative session, but soon they're going to get more supervision. Yesterday the House concurred in Senate amendments to HB 1239 by Hodge/Hinojosa, which would give the Texas Department of Public Safety new statutory authority and enforcement tools to oversee Texas' drug task force system.

Drug task forces in Texas first came under scrutiny after the scandals in Tulia and Hearne. Debate heated up when a South Texas drug task force commander released confidential video of a traffic stop with Senate sponsor Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, hoping to intimidate him into backing off. Hinojosa, though, is a gun-toting ex-marine and Vietnam vet: He doesn't scare easily.

The House version of the bill
would have abolished the drug task force system in its current form based on an interim recommendaton from the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Disappointingly, though, the Senate didn't want to go that far, plus the Governor's representatives indicated the House version would draw a veto.

DPS will say where task forces operate and who is involved, plus receive a raft of new reporting about task force activities. Participating agencies must abide by DPS Narcotics Division's rules, which are fairly stringent regarding key areas like confidential informant use and asset forfeiture practices. Failure to comply with the rules (which were previously unenforceable) will now lead to a loss of asset forfeiture funds.

The bill now headed to the Governor would also force rogue drug task forces that previously refused to fall under DPS supervision to submit to state oversight.

It's half a loaf, but I'll take it. Congratulations and thank you to Rep. Hodge and Sen. Hinojosa.

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