Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Terrorists in Texarkana? Homeland security money diverted to drug interdiction on highways

Thank the Governor once again for keeping the border secure - this time from retirees, hog farmers and hillbillies in Arkansas!

According to the Texarkana Gazette ("Local police may soon be wrangling I-30 drug smugglers," 1-22), Governor Perry is using grant money from the Department of Homeland Security to search for terrorists in Texarkana. The funds will pay for a "Border Security Enhancement Operation."

Huh?! I was unaware until now there was a problem policing the border to ARKANSAS! (If anything, I'd have suggested militarizing the border with the Okies. The Red River should be a defensible position, one would think - perhaps a good place for a wall?)

The real purpose of the grant, though, is to fund overtime for a drug interdiction unit to work the highways trolling for asset forfeiture income, not "border security" or "terrorism." Reported the Gazette:

Some Texarkana, Texas, police officers may soon be deployed to help track down and arrest possible terrorists as well as drug smugglers along Interstate 30 and U.S. Highway 59.

During their regular meeting at 7 tonight, the Texas-side City Council will consider contracting with the Department of Public Safety to deploy some municipal officers in a Border Security Enhancement Operations Project known as “Operation Wrangle.”

The interlocal cooperation agreement will allow city police to patrol and work traffic enforcement, on an overtime basis, along I-30 and U.S. Highway 59 to target illegal drug smugglers and terrorists, according to city records.

The agreement further calls for the DPS to reimburse the city up to $43,000 for all overtime paid as well as mileage and for vehicle use—money that will come from Department of Homeland Security grants administered through the DPS and the governor’s Division of Emergency Management.

The stateside enforcement program started last week and will last through Aug. 31.
I'm no fan of these highway interdiction units - they're too income-focused and waste police resources conducting countless unnecessary "consent searches," mostly of innocent people, that serve little public safety purpose. The results are essentially random and the VAST majority of searches at drug interdiction stops don't come up with any contraband.

In 2004 I authored a public policy report on behalf of Texas ACLU analyzing drug interdiction units at Texas drug task forces (pdf). As I wrote then:
Through open records requests and several months of research, the ACLU of Texas has learned that the overwhelming majority of RNTF interdiction efforts amount to fishing expeditions that contribute little to traffic safety. Instead, interdiction permits task force officers to pull over and search thousands of innocent Texans each year as well as to seize vehicles, cash, and other forms of personal property. Furthermore, records documenting RNTF interdiction activities reveal patterns of racial disparity in how frequently officers search vehicles.
At some task forces, more than 99% of all traffic stops made by drug interdiction units did not result in traffic tickets - drivers were let off with warnings for whatever pretext the officer used for the stop. But at those stops, our research found that the focus on drug interdiction caused officers to conduct MANY more so-called consent searches than do regular police on traffic duty.

I considered the Governor's decision to de-fund Texas' regional drug task force system a big first step toward imposing accountability on the use of federal grant funds. This seems like a step backward.

I guess it's true that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. Now we're "securing the border" with Arkansas "from terrorists." Oh, and btw, trolling for drug dealers on the highways just like they did under the old, failed task force model. This must be the farce part.

UPDATE: More on "Operation Wrangler" from South Texas Chisme and the Houston Chronicle.


Quismada said...

It's finally happened! The wind blowing last week in Austin finally penetrated Perry's "hair" and caused a major vapor lock to occur. I can almost see his ears twitching and his eyes bugging out of his face as the lock causes havoc inside a brain that needs to fart.
What ever happened to "designated funds" in this state? It would seem reasonable to expect Federal money to go to the account it was funding, i.e., Homeland Security. Oops! I forgot...we have a massive number of terrorists gathered in the state of Arkansas which is surely a place everyone would want to congregate. Am I missing something here?
I do feel much more secure knowing the funds that could be used to assure the safety of my family and yours are now being spent paying the local yokels to track down the drug cartels driving on Interstate 30. Let's face it folks, the war on drugs was lost long ago but the reality of terrorism is a daily threat we all must learn to live with.
It is so good to live in a state where the Governor is focused on the true problem.

Anonymous said...

More proof of the DrugWar's profligate financial chickens coming home to roost; a thinly veiled attempt to continue funding an already moribund program through a 'shell game'. But as things worsen financially for the States, it will become starkly clearer and clearer that the DrugWar was nothing if it wasn't a huge black hole that hundreds of billions of dollars have been thrown into and are lost forever.

But the LEO 'anti- drug' gravy train that started rolling in the 1980's, the one that seemed to be able to go on forever, is finally slowing down. And it's slowing down because the critical choices, as they have been for every nation in history, have always been between 'guns or butter'. We tried to have both with the DrugWar and the War on Terror, and now the piggy bank is empty. And raising taxes to pay for further installments of the DrugWar will go over like a lead balloon, particularly when someone points out how much has been spent already on the DrugWar to no discernable benefit...save to those who are such cheerleaders for it.

With fiscal belt-tightening taking place in every State, there will be ever greater competition for the remaining - but dwindling - funds. I'd say you can expect to see lots more of this kind of 'creative financing' happening in the future...

Anonymous said...

Isn't there such a thing as misuse or misappropriation of funds?

Well, obviously, there is...but isn't there anything that can be done to stop them from misusing or misappropriating funds?

Anonymous said...

"And raising taxes to pay for further installments of the DrugWar will go over like a lead balloon, particularly when someone points out how much has been spent already on the DrugWar to no discernable benefit...save to those who are such cheerleaders for it."

I so agree, Kaptinemo, and a lot of other people do , too.

I think there is something funny, actually, not funny, going on with the "cheerleaders" and the people who are supposed to be representatives of the people...not just the "cheerleaders".

Anonymous said...

I guess Rick's just protecting Texas from Arkansas' infamous Hillbillotaliban...

This jumped out at me from today's Austin American-Statesman story:

Perry's office said local governments will have to foot the bill for the operation up front, but that they will be reimbursed with federal funds.

The article quoted only one border sheriff -- Rick Flores of Webb County. I wrote about the problems we had down here in the Big Bend with "Operation Linebacker (http://www.bigbendgazette.com/PDFs/2006/BBG_2006_10.pdf) back in October for the BB Gazette. It was all very politicized. Yeah, the sheriffs liked the extra dough, but they didn't like being used (except for Flores who, I got the distinct feeling, was enjoying his new found popularity with guys like Lou Dobbs and Bill O'Rielly).

Terrorists and drugs my ass... this has to do with any bureaucracy... if they can gather money, they will. Footing the bill up front? Okie-dokie. I'll sell you a bridge to nowhere too.