Monday, March 06, 2006

More problems than Tulia caused drug task forces to close

Even as Texas' Byrne-grant funded drug task forces are shutting down, task force officials still appear to be in denial about problems these rogue agencies have faced across the state. Over and over we see officials claim they're being blamed for what happened in Tulia, when really these agencies have been unaccountable more or less across the board. Reporting in the Bryan-College Station Eagle ("Funds drying up for drug task force," March 5), Holly Huffman quoted Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk promoting that meme:

"We've seen legislatively over the last two sessions efforts to defund and even deorganize the task forces, and it basically comes back to all the bad press that the task forces got from the Tulia incident and one or two other incidents," Kirk said last week, referencing a discredited, racially charged drug bust in West Texas that sent innocent people to jail. "That's a very broad brush to be using on all the task forces in the state. We ran one of the better task forces in the state - completely above board."

He added: "We've operated a good task force here. We're unfortunately penalized by a media storm for a couple of bad incidents."

One or two other incidents? Try a couple of dozen or so, that we know of, including the one in Hearne just down the road from Bryan. See p. 5 of this public policy report (pdf) from ACLU of Texas, and p. 13 of this one (pdf) for more Texas drug task force scandals, as well as this in-depth case study and other examples cited on Grits. I've argued previously that's because of their flawed structure -- Byrne task forces are federally funded, state managed, locally staffed and therefore accountable to no one. That structural glitch causes these unaccountable agencies to face similar problems in other states, too.

Ironically, the same Eagle article alluded to problems with the Brazos Valley task force, too: "
College Station police administrators pulled their officers in 2004, citing continuing problems with task force leadership," reported Huffman. That's a participating agency criticizing their task force's leadership, not the ACLU or Grits for Breakfast - and it has nothing to do with Tulia.

As the saying goes, denial is not just a river in Egypt - it apparently also runs fast and deep through the minds of many in Texas drug enforcement.


Anonymous said...

Grits, A DEA Task Force

"DEA agent accused of embezzling drug money to buy Fla. real estate"

The indictment against Campion said the agent took money from an agency vault seven times in 2004 and 2005. He was assigned to the task force at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

This guy is 44 and DEA claims he took the money seven times so why would he think money in a vault with records wouldn't be accounted for. This is not a crime of desperation; this is a crime of opportunity. The mindset behind his WHY is really at issue and my point is someone told on this guy or he'd still be doing it AND GETTING AWAY WITH IT.

Can you imagine a vault with money? In DEA you can't keep cash unless it's evidence and a letter is required from a prosecutor to keep it. But this is a Task Force; one of those we work together, combine our resources, places and this is DEA not Tulia.

Anonymous said...

The primary problem in Tulia was the use of uncorroborated testimony and an unsupervized cop; the problem was not that innocent people were convicted (that is almost impossible to prove) or that the sting was racially tainted. Most large-scale drug busts in Texas are racially tainted. The recent bust in Lubbock netted 100% black defendants (so far as I have been able to determine). Does that make it racially tainted? The repeated mass arrest of young black males indicates at least a measure of racial profiling--but in that sense Tulia is typical, not unique. It only becomes unusual if you assume that Coleman faked cases on innocent people out of racial malice--something that has been frequently asserted but never proven. The Lubbock sting netted 4 kilos of crack cocaine, so we are probably looking at a few serious dealers. But we need to question to wisdom of a public policy that leads to the mass incarceration of young black males without making the streets safer or reducing the supply of illegal drugs. We also need to be looking for structural flaws in DEA sponsored drug busts because that is the wave of the future.

Anonymous said...

The issue isn't Tulia or Coleman or DEA; it's what happens or doesn't typically in Drug Task Forces.

To understand that, you need to understand the genesis of a drug task force whethter it's Tulia or DEA.

When mulitple jurisdictions come together, share resources, work together, and blend their talents rules, policies, and procedures also collide. All of the different jurisdictions have different masters and if there are multiple masters there's not ONE.

The blend of rules simply mean rules aren't being followed, especially the ones that conflict with the "COOPERATION MODEL".

DEA has well established rules for informants, evidence, money, reports, etc but when they get together with their "law enforcement partners" those rules are dilluted, changed, and modified so they don't cause a disturbance for DEA in that "COOPERATION MODEL". DEA and it's managers feel the public wants them to cooperate more than they want them to do their job and every head of every DEA field division I know not only sanctions rules violations but espouse it.

This may not look serious on it's face but what this does is connect federal funding to a day to day law enforcement effort that is violating rules at will because even if a supervisor knows they won't stop it for fear of almost instant retaliation.

Look at a DEA press release and you will see more participating police departments at the bottom than defendants. Some of the defendants are DEA level traffickers but the majority of them aren't. The justification is that DEA now DISMANTLES the entire organization, the one at the top that was organized AND the one at the street level that wasn't.

The key to breaking up this mindset is to independently inspect the work (reports, man-hour diaries, etc) of the Task Force Agents in that Lubbock arrest; inpect the DEA office that supported it; and I will just about guarantee you're scrutiny will uncover the day to day rules that will horrify you and many of them are violations of law.

In 1973, DEA was created because drug trafficking was a state to state problem and most of the drugs came from outside the U.S. Today there are 50 little DEA's out there; all of them localized, adn the international scope they once had is partially, at least, focused on dismantling an organization that wasn't organized in Lubbock, Texas.