Thursday, October 27, 2005

Governor getting one-sided advice from appointees

Yesterday I attended a meeting of Governor Rick Perry's new Crimnal Justice Advisory Council, or part of it, but it was hard not to be disappointed in the one-sided approach the Governor's appointees are taking. The group was created to identify flaws in Texas' criminal justice system and suggest possible reforms "from the initial stage of investigation into a crime to appellate and post-conviction proceedings." After seeing them in action, though, cliches about foxes and henhouses come to mind.

Most of the group's work is happening in subcommittees, not the full meetings, so I attended a subcommittee headed by Wichita Falls District Attorney Barry Macha that addressed the subjects of consent searches at traffic stops and in-car police cameras. (Regular readers
will recall that the Governor vetoed legislation that would have required consent to search at traffic stops to be written or recorded.) The other two subcommittee members were lobbyists for the police chiefs association and CLEAT, the state's largest police union. Not surprisingly, a district attorney and two full-time lobbyists for law enforcement interests just didn't see any need for new consent search restrictions. (I know, gentle readers, you're as shocked at that as I am.)

My presence there was an anomaly -- for some, even cause for mirth. At one point a Governor's representative laughingly suggested they beat me up and take my notes. But this group was appointed to "assess our system of justice and make improvements," a much-needed function, so the fact that they're only soliciting the opinions of law enforcement interests to evaluate these topics isn't a laughing matter.

Anybody who wonders why Texas can't break away from it's short-sighted, budget busting, crime creating, lock-em up approaches that are disrespectful of human rights and civil liberties, this process exemplifies the reason: All the parties in my subcommittee were there with their hands out. The unions wanted money for training, the chiefs wanted grants for in-car cameras, DA Macha wanted centralized crime-scene analysis -- so the special interests only could identify problems that could be solved by giving THEM more money.

None of the discussion, though, centered on the rights of drivers, and possible abuses were only raised (by the police union rep), for the purpose of claiming they never occurred, or if they did could only be solved by more training.

When Governor Perry first appointed this panel, I
suggested he was "passing the buck." Now it's clear who he was passing it to: the same special interests who created this mess in the first place.


Anonymous said...

Hey Scott,

Any recomendations on the jail bond proposal on this month's ballott? The Austin Chronicle endorsed it today saying, rightly, that we should bring Travis County inmates back from the very troubled Frio County private jail.

However, the Chronicle doesn't list any alternatives that might reduce overcrowding without shipping inmates out.


Catonya said...

can't say I'm surprised by Macha's stance, though I'm not sure a change in the law would have any effect on Wichita Falls, as law enforcement there never asks for consent to search to begin with. And if you're bold enough to object or refuse they laugh in your face and search anyway.

Anonymous said...

Scott, Thank you for your information. I, for one, find it alarming.