Thursday, April 20, 2006

Drug enforcement broken down on border

Drug enfrorcement on the Texas-Mexico border has by all appearances utterly broken down. From one end of the Rio Grande to the other US cops frequently assist the smugglers rather than thwarting them - not most cops, by any measure, but enough to utterly stymie good faith efforts by the rest of them.

The morning papers bring a few additional tidbits about the latest example of Texas law enforcement complicity with Mexican drug cartels that Grits discussed yesterday: the just-arrested deputy director of the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force, Julio Lopez. Federal investigators say he was moonlighting escorting drug runners through Zapata County, even storing their drugs for them and doling out confidential police data.
(See the DoJ press release.)

Before joining the task force, Lopez worked as an investigator for his brother Joe, who is the current Zapata County Attorney. Joe Lopez narrowly won a Democratic primary in March to become a district judge.
Reports the Houston Chronicle:
Lopez is the brother of former Zapata County Attorney Joe Lopez, who recently won the Democratic nomination as judge of the 49th State District Court in Laredo. The judge could not be reached by phone at his office late Wednesday.

Julio Lopez, a former investigator for the Zapata county attorney's office, was hired by the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Taskforce in January 2005, Perales-Garcia said.

Sounds to me like the feds ought to be extending their investigation to his former employer - how likely does it seem that this was the first time in a 20 year career this officer stepped over the line? If not, could the County Attorney really know nothing about extreme misconduct by his brother and employee in such a small agency? If I'm a federal anti-corruption investigator, it's sure worth a look. My advice: Follow the money.

I have to admit, it's a wonder to me how this task force is still going in the first place - I thought they'd lost their funding. The SA Express News reports that the task force had been "reinventing' itself recently after the money dried up:

The news came as the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force, administered by the Webb County district attorney's office, was reinventing itself.

In a reallocation of federal grants, Gov. Rick Perry ended funding for the task forces, instead sending that money to new law enforcement groups such as the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition.

In response, the drug task force is in the middle of changing names and missions — adding terrorism and violence to its list of duties — in an effort to receive funding from other sources, said Pete Garza, first assistant district attorney for Webb County.

Well, this oughtta look good on that next grant application, don't you think? I wonder what funding streams they were hoping to tap into? Whatever the source, this can't help.

I've argued for years these multi-agency task forces are structurally flawed - they're federally funded, state managed, locally staffed and doomed to fail. The lack of oversight that lets folks like Julio Lopez and Tom Coleman run amok is built right into the system - the problem isn't just in Texas, nor was this the first time this task force has been in the news over improprieties. The same bunch a few years back got in trouble for paying officers unwarranted overtime, reported the Express News:

This was not the first time the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force has been scrutinized.

In 2001 the Laredo Police Department investigated allegations that task force members were being paid for overtime not worked.

I guess if the government won't pay cops to do nothing, smugglers always will. (How will a wall stop that?) I suppose I'd rather have taxpayers pay for this fellow to do nothing than have him on organized crime's payroll, but can those be our only options? To hear Governor Perry tell it, all we need to secure the border is more, more, more money spent on the same failed strategies. I don't buy it and this example shows why - one corrupt cop can trump dozens of honest ones. You could raise taxes every day from here to December and never hire enough officers to solve that dilemma.

Just as the reason for Mexican immigration is US companies' high demand for labor, the bottom line cause of drug smuggling is US demand for drugs - it may just be impossible to stop illegal border crossings when there's that much money to be made.

It's easy to look at Texas' border woes and despair, but real solutions can't just focus there - at the end of the day, getting control of the border must involve reducing US drug demand, targeted investments that spur job growth in Mexico and Latin America (to provide alternate income sources for workers), and regulated, legal immigration sufficient to meet US labor demands. Even then you can't stop a crook from bribing a cop, if both are willing. I don't know how you get there, but what we're doing now isn't working.


Anonymous said...

"DEA nabs police officer, brothers in sting"

Another round of corrupt cop stories in Texas. Is Texas the only state where this exists with this regularity from the local level all the way to the head of the local FBI office?

Anonymous said...

Let's put it this way, Anon; it's only more visible thanks to close proximity to the border. The corruption spawned by drug prohibition is almost everywhere, and one would have to be on a remote island in the Aleutians to escape it...and even then, I'd be wary.

Drug prohibition corruption is like an amoeba that moves around and isolates what it can't envelope and swallow. That leaves those not corrupted to worry about their fellow officers as to their reliability. The term 'fifth column' comes to mind. It's that insidious. And it will not change until the drug trade is no longer insanely profitable, and the only way to see to that is to gut the cartels by doing what our grandparents did to Al Capone: starve them of revenue by making what was once dirt cheap (before prohibition hiked the price artificially) dirt cheap once more.

Of course, the self-appointed morals proctors will shriek and have apoplectic fits over such a seeming 'surrender'...just as Billy Sunday foamed and fulminated against the resumption of legal liquor sales. But history has borne out the more reasonable voices against alcohol prohibition then, as I suspect they would about drug prohibition, today.