Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Era of Tulia-style drug task forces coming to an end in Texas?

Scandals, mismanagement and skewed priorities at Texas drug task forces paid for by the federal Byrne grant program appear to finally be catching up to the rogue units. More have announced they'll close shop at the end of March when Governor Rick Perry will reportedly shut off their funds. In a major shift, Texas' Governor has chosen to spend that money on other critical programs like drug courts and border security.

"The Byrne Grant no longer exists to fund narcotics task forces solely," Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor told the
Palestine Herald Press ("Area law authorities plan drug war strategy," Jan. 30) . That's a victory for civil rights groups and others who've pushed for the past several years to get rid of these odd pseudo-agencies altogether.

reported earlier how Perry's announcement already forced the closure of most drug task forces in the state - there were 49 at the time the Tulia scandals occurred, and today the number has dwindled to the mid-teens. The latest casualty - the Dogwood Trails Narcotics Task Force based in Palestine, TX - should be well-known to long-time Grits readers, especially its history of racially skewed drug enforcement. Reports the Herald-Press :
Anderson County, the City of Palestine and others throughout the state are in the process of developing a new strategy in waging the war on drugs.

As of March 31, the federal Byrne Grant which has been the primary source of funding for the Dogwood Trails Narcotics Task Force expires. Participants in the multi-jurisdictional task force include Anderson County; City of Palestine; Houston County; and Cherokee County.

While the participating city and county entities have historically contributed either an officer's salary or cash, the Dogwood Trails Narcotics Task Force has been chiefly funded through the Byrne Grant. Although the federal share has steadily dwindled in recent years, the local task force received a total of $565,901 during its 2004-05 fiscal year, with $416,483 coming from the Byrne Grant and the remainder from local sources.
So the money teat has run dry, it seems, for Texas' Tulia-style drug task forces. That's a good thing. The money can be spent on many different types of programs, including drug courts, drug treatment programs or strengthening probation.

Dogwood Trails ofificials hope to keep up a multi-county drug task force even after losing 74% of their budget, the Herald Press reports:

The sheriff made it clear Anderson County and the City of Palestine remain "committed" to providing resources to fund some type of narcotics task force. At what level that task force will operate is a question that only time will answer. ...

"Our first goal is to have a multi-jurisdictional task force (two or more counties) like we do now," Taylor said. "The difference will be there will be no (federal) funding."
I find it especially interesting that local officials would choose to continue multi-county task forces after the federal funding ends. Under a new state law, drug task forces that operate in more than one county must fall under the supervisory authority of the Texas Department of Public Safety or lose their asset forfeiture income. I wouldn't think local officials would want to submit to those rules if they weren't required to do so to receive grant money.

The North Texas Narcotics Task Force based in Wichita Falls is also fretting over
what to do when the well runs dry.

In just a couple of months we'll know how many, if any, Tulia-style drug task forces will remain in business in Texas. My hope: the final number is zero. Stay tuned.

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