Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Disbanded drug task forces look for forfeiture, federal pork money

Will agents from Texas' Tulia-style drug task forces, most of which will reportedly close down soon, simply latch onto other pork barrel funding streams to pay their salaries?

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports today ("
Drug Task Force Agents May Not Be Funded," Jan. 3) that the Tri-County drug task force in southeast Texas is closing in March because of reductions in funds to the federal Byrne grant program. According to the task force's project director:
"It's our understanding that this will be the end of the governor's office funding for these types of task forces past that date," [Aransas District Attorney Patrick] Flanigan said. "It sounds like they don't want that anymore."
That's welcome news, but the same article announces that agencies participating in the Tri-County task force are still looking to profit from asset forfeiture revenue and federal grants:
Aransas County Sheriff Mark Gilliam said one of his two officers in the tri-county group will move in January to the task force run by the local division of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Aransas County will continue to fund that agent's salary and benefits, a cost of about $70,000.

With this new arrangement, the county will share in the seized assets with the other members of the DEA task force."We should be able to snag a good portion of that and put it to good use," Gilliam said.

Gilliam said most agencies with the DEA group receive more than $100,000 in seizures each year.

"It's a win-win for Aransas County, partnering with DEA and we have an opportunity to share in some of those seizures and that's going to be good for Aransas County, and hopefully if we seize enough money we'll be able to add another officer."

Here we see, IMO, the real motive for local law enforcement's participation in federally funded drug task forces -- both the ones funded by the Byrne grant program and others: Maximizing generation of asset forfeiture income, which always seems to matter to local agencies much more than reducing drug abuse or crime. Drug enforcement is the only law enforcement activity viewed as a revenue generator.

The Aransas Sheriff's quote also points to the prescience of Grits' law enforcement commenters who predicted that Texas drug task force agents wouldn't fade gently into that good night. When I
reported in December that Congress cut the Byrne grant program that pays for task forces for the second year in a row, a former narcotics agent responded to predict that counties hoping to continue suckling on the drug war funding teat would rush to seek funding from and participation in an array of other sources, including several types of federally backed task forces:
HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area): 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 (Mobile Enforcement Teams): 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 (Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force): 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.
I can't tell from the Caller Times article which type of "DEA task force" Aransas County hopes to joint, but it's likely one of those described by this commenter. (The HIDTA task forces have also been targeted by the Bush Administration for funding reductions, as Grits mentioned earlier.) Another commenter on the same string identified the national guard as a source of federal drug war funding to watch:
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.
Like the Byrne grant funds, Governor Perry controls Texas' national guard troops, though also like the Byrne grant funds it's likely he'd focus their efforts on the border before they worked rural areas covered by Texas' dying breed of Byrne task forces.

In any event, we should be just as concerned at Aransas' participation in a DEA task force as in a Tulia-style task force funded by the Byrne grant program. The same former narcotics agent quoted above (who I've spoken to and corresponded with independently) identified
in the comments to this post the fundamental flaw marking all these pork-barrel projects -- they reward outcomes that result in large numbers of arrests but don't reduce drug use or improve public safety:
Local and State police compete for federal funds and the funds which pay for overtime, cars, guns, and other law enforcement perks are awarded to those agencies that have the highest numbers of arrests and seizures.

High numbers of arrests are newsworthy and large numbers of arrests makes the police look like they are effective, cooperating, and busy.

Tulia embodies this law enforcement model and so does every other drug task force across the United States with only one [difference].

The operations of Tulia were closely scrutinzed and that hasn't happened yet to other drug task forces in the other 49 states.


Anonymous said...


I am not just a retired narcotics Agent; I'm a retired DEA Agent, therefore I know DEA and I know their task force program.

Like MET, RET, HIDTA, OCDETF, and Bryne Grants, DEA has federal funds to fund a task force which is nothing more than several federal, state, and local agencies pooling resources and targeting the very targets that separated them to begin with.

DEA pays overtime and some other expenses but DEA's task force program is really DEA's way of taking credit for effort that's not really theirs. I had a supervisor who once described it as "cheap numbers" because eventually DEA starts claiming all of those local low level arrests that they just report to DEA HQ's as drug arrests.

The DEA Asset forfeiture program helps fund this numbers driven monster by paying money to those departments who participate in the task force.

I worked in a DEA task force where one department received over $500,000 over a three year period and the money was only used to pay for the phoney overtime of the two Lieutenants who controlled the money.

DEA Task Forces are inherently corrupt and DEA management ignores it because these task forces provide them with large volumes of low level statistics.

DEA Task forces would not survive Tulia like scrutiny and that should be the cause of serious concern.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the information on where my department may look for additional funds. Due to the Ending of the Byrn Funded task forces, my department was not going to be able to afford to continue the fight.

DEA task forces..........Great Idea and thanks a MILLION $$$$$$$$

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well I have to give you narcs a reason to read the blog. Keep checking back.

Keep in mind, though, if you guys are as sloppy using those funds as you were with the Byrne grants, trouble and de-funding threats will just follow you from funding stream to funding stream. Clean up your act, then nobody will care where you get your money.

Happy new year, in any event.

Anonymous said...

In cased many haven't noticed, the US has a 8 Trillion dollar deficit. Our National Debt is being propped up by countries such as China (certainly no friend of ours) and Japan (give a Japanese businessman enough sake and he'll happily explain to you why the Sons of Nihon deserve to run the world economically). The value of the dollar is eroding steadily, and the value of those foreign investments are dropping as fast as the dollar is on the exchanges. If those foreigners pull out of the dollar, say hello to Great Depression Two. And...they are thinking about doing precisley that: Petrodollar Warfare: Dollars, Euros and the Upcoming Iranian Oil Bourse

Between the "Eye-rack War" and sundry other expensive undertakings, what's left of our 'service' economy has been stretched to the breaking point; just to pay for partial Katrina recovery, the Republicans have recently cut many social program that Joe Sixpack will need when he loses his job after the factory is moved to China or India.

Given all this, how much longer does anyone believe that we can afford this 'rich man's hobby' of a DrugWar? How much longer can a politician afford to explain to an unemployed factory worker whose job has vanished and whose unemployment bennies have run out that to 'save' his kids from drugs (when ol' Joe Sixpack will soon have things like losing the mortgage and feeding those kids to worry about) he has to divert funds from those social safety net programs to pay for the fancy toys of DrugWarriors?

Enjoy it while you can, Anonymous, but the future of the DrugWar is only as bright as we can afford to pay the bill for these expensive hobby-horses of yours. When the crunch comes, I would lay even odds that you'll be seeing a pink slip yourself. When I began working for the Feds in 1984, I was told that I might never get rich, but I'd always have a job; in 1995 with the shutdown of the Feds I learned the truth that that wasn't the case anymore. No one is safe, anymore not even (putative) civil servants.

j said...

Personally, I find something wrong with anyone who wants to work for the DEA or any county drug task force. I have a friend (although not a close one because of this family relation) who's brother is the head of the drug task force several counties away from where I live and he is an addict and an all around SOB. The things she told me about him lead me to believe he deserves to be in prison himself!

Anonymous said...

Hey DANIKA...maybe the person you speak about should be in prison.....Stop blogging and try and do somthing about the guy....It is pretty simple minded of you to lump all DEA and Task Force Investigators into the same category.
Not every Police Officer is crooked as well as not every Attorney is a slimebag.....
Try to open you eyes and be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem...Thanks

Anonymous said...

The DEA Task Forces, like the FBI Terrorism TF's, are all scams. The Feds provide the Supervisors (HIGH paying federal agent positions), and the state and local officers are deputized as Junior G Men, sworn to secrecy. There is no cooperation among agencies at all because the local cops are now prohibited from talking with even their own departments. For the cost of a few supervisors and office space the Feds get a huge task force, with the locals as cheap labor, and get to not only claim all the credit to the media, they get total control of all investigations.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:39pm is obviously an FBI Agent or a cop who worked in one of their task forces

Your right but you purposely or not so purposely explained why the task force concept run by anyone is inherently corrupt.

Ratio: These task forces are supervised by the agency at a separate location. It's hard to control the conduct your own personnel let alone others.

Separating police officers from a structure of trust and integrity almost immediately influences them in the wrong way.

Rules: Whose rules do they follow? In theory they follow the supervising agency but in reality and as a practical matter they make their own up as they go.

Eleven different agencies with eleven different jurisdictions with eleven different training methods with eleven different hiring standards get together and use one set of rules. Please.

Then they target the very targets that separated their jurisdictions to begin with.

Control: The more agencies in the task force the more people you have to point fingers at. It's almost perfect becuase you never run out of blame targets.

It's like having 11 different CEO's.

The agency doesn't care about control. It's about cheap information and arrests not controlling investigations. They've tapped into your department with some overtime and a supervisor who they can afford to have out of the office.

It's cheap has loads of public appeal; you look like your cooperating then no one makes that "phone call" to report you as a "non-cooperator".

Benefits: The federal agency and the police benefit because these task forces outwardly have a stabilizing effect in the community. Inwardly they are a trainwreck of integrity, especially lying.

I predict that Task Force scandals like Tulia are right around the corner. When that happens and it will, the public will be horrified at the lack of integrity in almost every function they perform.

Anonymous said...

Follow the money, brother, it's all about the benjamins, etc....
My favorite phrase is the title of a book about the CIA in Africa:
In Search of Enemies....
Just watch out for the Fill-In-The-Blank Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force.....