Monday, March 10, 2008

Byrne task force funds mainly financing low-grade drug enforcement

Having reviewed the new Tulia, Texas documentary yesterday, it's fitting to find quite a bit of recent drug task force related news to add context to the discussion.

Off the bat, around the country the backlash is growing among drug enforcers against proposed cuts to the Byrne grant program in Congress. The Steroid Report points to a high-profile Sheriff in Michigan lashing out in a Detroit News story, criticizing grandstanding in Congress over steroids in baseball while cutting funds for the war on drugs ("Federal funding cuts may mean fewer narcotics officers on the street," March 8):

[Sheriff] Bouchard said he would like to see Congress shift its interest in alleged steroid and human growth hormone use in Major League Baseball and focus more on funding the fight against drugs.

"While Congress focuses on the need to eliminate drug use from baseball, law enforcement is struggling to get action on Byrne . . . which fights drugs not just in baseball, but on our streets and in our neighborhoods," Bouchard said. "Literally thousands of children have been saved from drug scenes by this program."

The Sheriff is not alone decrying the funding cuts, though perhaps predictably, the only folks you hear complaining are the grant recipients. It's difficult to understand what Sheriff Bouchard is talking about when he says "thousands of children have been saved from the drug scenes." In their 20 years of existence, no objective measure shows that drug consumption or availability has been reduced in areas where Byrne task forces operate.

In Texas, when I examined task force grant applications several years ago, a pattern emerged (reported in an ACLUTX public policy report called "Too Far Off Task" in 2002) that every task force estimated and usually achieved INCREASED drug arrests every single year. Indeed, that's how they measured "success," to increase arrests from the year before. If arrests are increasing every year, though, you're losing the "war on drugs." When you think about it, if they're successful, the ultimate goal of law enforcement should be for drug arrests to decline.

The sky didn't fall here when our system of drug task forces lost their funding, and it won't in other states, either.

Meanwhile, an article in the Baltimore Sun featured former Permian Basin drug task force cop and inveterate self-promoter Barry Cooper with a new How-To video ("Former narc gives advice on avoiding arrest," March 9):

Cooper, 38, a fast-talking former narcotics cop, is best known for changing sides in the war on drugs in December 2006, when he released Never Get Busted Again. In the DVD, he offered marijuana users advice on how to avoid arrest during traffic stops.

Police greeted the movie with sarcasm, but no real concern.

Now Cooper has begun shipping a new title, Never Get Raided, which teaches viewers how to buy, sell and grow pot without going to jail. He also gives tips for identifying undercover officers.

"Now that's getting a little close to home," said Richard Dickson, who served with Cooper on the West Texas Permian Basin Drug Task Force in the 1990s. "That kind of information affects all kinds of undercover agents. It puts all kinds of operations at risk, even on homeland security issues." ...

"The last three months of my law enforcement career, I had started smoking pot," he said recently, sitting at his kitchen table in Big Sandy, a small town east of Tyler. "And I noticed the people I had been arresting were nice people. They had a balanced checkbook, their kids made straight A's, and I was like, 'This drug is not making people crazy.'"

He advocates the legalization of all drugs. If the laws changed, he said, addicts would receive better treatment, drug-fueled crime would plummet and illegal drug empires would collapse.

It is similar to an argument advanced by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of 10,000 members including former judges, prosecutors, federal agents and police officers that opposes the war on drugs.

"We don't agree philosophically at all on these issues," said Jack Cole, executive director and a 14-year undercover officer for the New Jersey State Police. "He thinks he should be able to school people on how to break the law; we believe in changing the law."

Drug laws will be broken, whether or not the law is changed, Cooper said. He's simply trying to help people avoid jail time for non-violent crime:

"Americans are not going to stop growing it, they're not going to stop buying it, they're not going to stop smoking it, even if you continue to put them in jail."

He said the discovery of seven fields and more than 25,000 plants near Dallas last summer illustrates his point.

Dallas Police Department Deputy Chief Julian Bernal doesn't dispute the public's appetite for marijuana, but he condemned Cooper's tactics.

"I think it's unconscionable for an ex-law enforcement officer to give tips to criminals. I don't think there's any question he's putting officers in danger, and he bears full responsibility for that."

I didn't promote Cooper's first video because I thought he gave bad advice to drivers about consenting to searches at traffic stops (he told them to do so, and just gave advice how to successfully hide drugs in your car, while I think all drivers should exercise their 4th Amendment rights and decline so-called "consent searches"). I'm not any more enamored of a video trying to teach people to out undercover cops, though like Cooper I'm a critic of the erosion of the Fourth Amendment at traffic stops and the increased use of military-style police raids. Still, Cooper's apostasy continues to fascinate the media, and I've heard his video products sell fairly well.

The Sun mentions that during his career as a drug task force officer, Cooper made 800 arrests including 300 felony arrests. That's a particularly interesting statistic because the only misdemeanor drug charges in Texas are for marijuana. That means 5/8 of the arrests Cooper made as a drug task force officer were for less than 4 oz of pot, not for harder drugs.

I'll bet an investigation into the specifics of who drug task forces arrest in other states would yield similar results, but that's not been the focus of recent press coverage on the subject. Those are pretty low-level targets, in the scheme of things, and helps explain why eliminating drug task forces in Texas didn't really harm public safety.

RELATED, via Drug Law Blog: Crappy Hackington Award: Chicago Tribune Invokes "Narcotic Scourge" And Stumps for the Byrne Grants


Anonymous said...

Another reminder to those who keep forgetting that the funds they receive courtesy of Byrne grants don't magically fall from the sky as manna from Heaven but are drawn from an ever-shrinking pool of tax revenues. The 'well' is finally bottoming out, and hard choices must be made as to what gets funded and what doesn't.

And when citizens are holding pink slips in their hands because their jobs have gone to China, and they're looking at bills for mortgage, rent, groceries, pharmas, etc., and have to go on unemployment for who knows how long, they don't want to be told that there isn't any funding for that because of the DrugWar.

Joe Bloh is going to be much more concerned about making ends meet and putting food on the table than he will about whether a career DrugWarrior gets his Byrne Grant money. A point which those who've gotten quite used to that 'easy money' will be made to understand should their protests become too loud.

Anonymous said...

And for a good explanation as to why I'm saying what I do, I offer this: The Politics of Prohibition. It is a little known - but once thought about, eminently logical - partial explanation for the ending of alcohol Prohibition, one not usually taught in grade schools.

IMHO, given what this country may be facing in the very near future, the same economic processes we saw at work last time we tried a substance prohibition (and failed, with nothing to show for it) are once again rearing their heads...and State legislatures around the country are taking notice.

Despite what many say, history really does repeat itself. It's only the names, faces and places that change...

Anonymous said...

Success in law enforcement is a budget larger than the prior year.

Public Safety is not a consideration.

Why is it that in citing reasons for crime rates, the number of activities that are crimes is never mentioned?

If the public was safe, we wouldn't need police. So all you're going to hear about is how unsafe we all are.

I feel more safety from criminals than from the criminal justice system. It is a sad feeling but the truth!

Anonymous said...

Cutting the funds for drug crime prevention doesn't seem smart with all of the problems prescription drugs are causing.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@4:58, these funds for the most part aren't used for "drug crime prevention," they're for post facto enforcement operations. Often they utilize long-term undercover drug stings that may not make an arrest until many months after the alleged crime was committed.

Anonymous said...

WRT the 'problems' of legal prescrip meds being diverted, this has been a 'problem' since the Feds mandated prescriptions in 1914 (once again, as usual, to 'save' the public from itself, and thus cause more of a problem) and periodically resurfaces in the public consciousness...usually at the instigation of some publicity seeking anti-drugs bureaucracy (significant glare in the ONDCP's and DEA's direction) whose efforts against illicit drugs have proven to be (predictably) impotent.

Like the efforts to jail pain management doctors, these exercises in futility rarely do little more than exacerbate a situation that could be handled with a lot less fanfare (physician's licensing boards, for example).

At what point will we admit that, just as the Founders were afraid might happen, we've allowed government to go 'over the line', from protecting us from each other to trying to protect us from ourselves? What, then, is the value of being an adult if government seeks to consign you to perpetual wardship through such efforts? The late author and social critic Philip Wylie long ago warned this nation about the dangers of such interference; he called it "Mom-ism". Rapidly approaching my fifth decade, I am long past the need for mothering of any sort, familial or otherwise. Yet, in the DrugWar, I see the logical result of that 'Mom-ism" at work, and its' results are anything but benign...