Sunday, November 20, 2005

Federal grants for drug task forces cut again

When a federally funded drug task force perpetrated the infamous Tulia drug stings in 1999, nobody could have predicted that six years later Texas' task forces would be fading into the sunset, or that President Bush would mercilessly slash their budgets, but that's just what's happened.

The federal "Byrne Justice Assistance Grant" that pays for local Tulia-style drug task forces all over the country will be cut by one-third in 2006 -- from $606 million to $402 million -- if, as expected, President Bush signs into law a Justice Department budget finally approved by the Senate this week. (See the Helena, MT Independent Record, "
Senate vote could mean cuts to drug task forces," Nov. 19.)

Earlier this year the House of Representatives
approved slightly deeper cuts. President Bush had proposed elimnating the fund, and a lot of conservative interests back him on that. But Democrats successfully preserved the pork barrel program first established to bolster their tough-on-crime credentials in 1988 while Michael Dukakis was running for President. Even so, the total fund now stands at half its 2004 levels.

What does this mean for state and local governments whose drug task force funds have been cut again? In short, that it's time to consider spending federal grant money on other things besides salaries for a few cops to
pursue outdated tactics. It's time for Byrne-grant funded drug task forces to close up shop -- their era is done, or it should be.

Local officials need to understand the same money can also pay for a lot of
other good stuff: to establish drug courts, purchase equipment, supplement treatment services, try juvenile justice innovations, create new programs aimed at special populations like the elderly or the homeless, in Texas they could strengthen probation programs that would draw down more state funds -- in short, lots of good stuff that local agencies need.

Only short-sighted leaders would continue spending Byrne money on drug task forces in the current environment because they're financially unsustainable. If President Bush successfully kills the Byrne grant fund in the next few years (he pushed for eliminating it in each of his first five Presidential budgets), the drug task forces will just dry up and go away. But money spent now on equipment, training and other projects -- especially innovative approaches like drug courts and cheaper alternatives to incarceration -- could build new infrastructure for the long term.

These budget cuts offer states a chance to get smarter about how they spend Byrne grant funds instead of backing failed programs year after year mainly out of habit, or possibly fear. I hope they will.


Anonymous said...

Dear Grits,

I did read the Helena, MT Independent Record article did you.

That article forcasted the next round of funding for enforcement which is:

HIDTA: This is the retirement home with large salaries for retired DEA Agents who dedicated their careers and the efforts of their DEA division to the state and local authority who selects HIDTA directors. If you don't believe me go to their website. 80% of those directors retired from DEA with 90,000 retirement salaries and now run HIDTA at a combined income of 200,000 or more.
What area in the U.S. is a Low Intensity Trafficking Area?

MET: MET Teams are DEA Agents who travel from a DEA Division to areas where the locals claim they need help. The costs of these federally financed teams costs more than the drugs they seize. In short, they come to town and arrest everyone. Then they leave and go to the next town with the same problem, only to see the same problem in the town they just left quickly return. That means they get to go back again, and again, and again.

Asset Forfeiture Fund: Most departments have built up funds from drug forfeitures and it's called their asset forfeiture fund. There's alot of money in most of those funds and it's used for more enforcement, more police, and more arrests. How is it that taxpayers finance the results from drug prosecution/arrests and drug profits only finance the effort that produces the arrest.

OCDETF: Another federal fund that can be tapped by state and locals who know how to write interesting reading proposals. The proposals aren't scrutnized or factually accurate. They're not used as proof at trial but they're fun to read and they were all prepared with a go-by. That's an OCDETF proposal that was approved in another geographical area and uses the language that's required by OCDETF to get funding.

Reducing Bryne grants or other federa funding won't have any effect until there are laws that require all drug profits to be used for the cost of addiction.

Drug cops are just as creative as drug traffickers and money, regardless of the source, is driving both.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Hell, I didn't say the drug war was over! But reducing the number of Byrne task forces is better than a sharp stick in the eye. To the extent the money shifts to treatment and other more productive pursuits, that's even better.

Bush wants to reduce HIDTA funding, too (I don't know how that turned out). Plus, Byrne task forces were always using a lot of asset forfeiture money, which I agree is a lynchpin, but fewer Byrne task forces will likely mean a reduction in forfeiture cases.

Sure there's a lot more to do (and thanks in particular for describing the MET teams, which I didn't know about). But the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. It's not a complete rollback, but maybe it's the first tangible step toward one I've seen in a while. Best,

Terry said...

I'm just not buying it Grits. Federalization of local police is a key aspect of the growing police state. Governments never give up power willingly. I predict the Byrne Grant program will pop up again in another form with another name, more centralized control and a better disguise. Probably some sort of Homeland Security grants.

Anonymous said...


You're right on the money and besides Byrne grants there are four or five other federal funding mechanisms immediately accessible to local and state law enforcement for drug enforcement.

Asset forfeiture at the federal, state and local level exists on top of those.

Name one law enforcement function, other than drug enforcement, that produces REVENUE. REVENUE not controlled by taxpayers and REVENUE that lets the departments spend what the taxpayers won't let them spend. When was the last time, a burglar was caught, prosecuted and sent to jail and the police who arrested him made a profit from the arrest.

Most departments have shifted their resources to drug enforcement, joined a task force (federal, state, or local) and they did it because they're making unregulated money just like every fortune 500 company in the U.S.

That money is used for more arrests and prosecutions. The prosecutions are defended with tax payer dollars and so is the incarceration, treatment, and eventual probation.

Tax payers are footing the bill for all the expensive results. Drug profits are funding the enforcement effort that produces the expensive results.

Use all of the money from asset forfeiture at the local, state and federal level for treatment and education and I guarantee the other federal funding will naturally go away.

So will PERMANENT drug task forces at all levels. Law enforcement resources will return where they belong and the entrepenurial approach to law enforcement will fade.

Call or write your senator and congressman and urge them to change laws about asset forfeiture. Drug profits at all levels fund the costs of arrests, prosecution, and treatment. It's fair, politically correct, and it doesn't cost the taxpayer a penny.

You do that and you'll see an improvement in the quality of life for all Americans, including the large numbers who are currently in jail for drug use and addiction.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm not sure what there is to "buy" or not -- the budget was cut. In Texas, task forces are closing and the money is being spent on other things. These aren't my opinions, they're historical realities.

Are there other funding streams? Yes. Is the drug war over? No. Can we be happy, for just one moment, if the money that paid for Tom Coleman's salary in Tulia is drying up? I don't see why not.

The "police state" isn't a monolithic force, and neither is conservatism. A lot of good cops can't stand the task forces. Many ideological conservatives think the feds have no place in local law enforcement, including the Heritage Foundation and the National Taxpayers Union. Nobody thinks what we're doing is working. The system is in crisis, as nearly every thinking person involved with it intuitively understands. Certainly the cops who comment on this blog seldom say everything's hunky dory. I don't consider them disingenuous just because of their source. I see establishment opinion as fragmented and shifting on these topics.

If we start with the assumption that nothing can change until everything does, IMO, then you're right -- nothing will change. Best,

Anonymous said...

When are you going to tackle the Texas National Guard's boondoggle Counter Drug Program? With an actual war going on, this program is sucking valuable resources (people and money) from the NG's real mission; and pissing it away on nice cushy jobs for active duty soldiers, who are wasted anwering phones for the narcs.

Terry said...

Sorry, Grits, I didn't mean to sound so cynnical about the whole thing. This really is great news. I'm especially happy to see it because my family and I have been personally abused by these mercenary thugs. They invaded my home, kidnapped my wife and tried to take my children all because my wife had expressed a political opinion that threatened their funding.
During Loretta's trial our lawyer asked the question,"Where does the funding..." and that was as far as he got because the whole courtroom erupted. The judge, prosecution and cops all immediately jumped and started yelling at the same time. It was as if they had all been suddenly hit with electricity. Needless to say, the question was not allowed.
I really appreciate the work you do in shedding light on this un-American nonsense. You are an invaluable asset and ally in the struggle for justice.