Tuesday, March 11, 2008

'Operation Byrne Blitz' makes explicit arrests-for-dollars link

Should law enforcement time arrests to generate media coverage aimed at supporting approval of pork barrel funds in the political process?

That's what's happening nationwide right now with drug task forces funded by the federal Byrne grant program. We got rid of ours in Texas, thank heavens, but other states' task forces are participating in Operation Byrne Blitz, a national campaign to publicize arrests last week in order to influence debate in Congress over their money. I'd seen the stories, but didn't realize this was a formal PR effort until reading a story from Kentucky ("CKADTF arrests total 13, part of National drug blitz," The Richmond Register, March 8), describing a series of arrests that were
"coordinated on the dates in conjunction with Operation Byrne Blitz.”

The operation was named for federal funding — Byrne/JAG — that was cut by President George W. Bush in an omnibus appropriations bill in December by $350 million. Byrne/JAG “provides funding to states and local areas to improve criminal justice system operations,” according to a National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition press release.
This happened informally in Texas when the task forces' fate was being decided, with local officials staging arrests then bragging to the local media how indispensable their services were. But it takes a lot of chutzpah to take that concept to the level of a national campaign and give it an Operation title. (Here's another news article where the link is made explicit.)

These agencies have nearly made official what was de facto true in practice, anyway, making arrests in order to pursue funding, not to improve public safety. Now, with "Operation Byrne Blitz," some drug warriors apparently have dropped all pretense.

I find the manufactured media "blitz" offensive and insulting to the public. Let's hope Congress sees past it.

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Anonymous said...

It's a symptom of just how far things have gone down the wrong path when those who are engaging in this see nothing wrong in such crass attempts at maintaining their own meal tickets.

Are they that contemptuous of their paymasters, that they honestly think the public, who actually foots the bill for these Grants, doesn't see through this? Are they that self-deluded? Have they become so insulated from their fellow citizens that they somehow feel said fellow citizens are so easily hood-winked? Evidently, some of them believe so...

(25 years ago, I once heard an Ocean City, Maryland cop once say that there are only two kinds of 'civilians': ***holes and victims. He made it plain that to become a victim one must perforce be an ***hole, eliminating the distinction. Obviously he did not think of himself as being a 'civilian', and thus a member of the society that he served. Any wonder why so few people actually trust their own police, anymore?)

As the economic situation worsens, there will be calls upon legislators to re-allocate the remaining resources for vital systems like infrastructure and social safety nets such as unemployment insurance...without which, we risk catastrophe. This will necessitate a reduction in spending for items not immediately necessary and vital to national survival...such as the DrugWar.

As the amount of funding available for the DrugWar decreases, look to see even more of these efforts take place, but with a twist: as the pool of funds shrink, the various States will be in competition with each other for what's left. (In truth, they already are, and we're seeing the beginning of the skirmishing with this 'Byrne Blitz' nonsense, here.)

This attempt at nationwide coordination will eventually break down, as the more successful elements within this group will hoard what they have gained, while the less successful face the disbanding of their Task Forces. But those who are more successful have only stayed the executioner's budgetary meat cleaver for a short time, as the inevitable, inexorable next round of budget-cutting will threaten their gains again, and quite likely eliminate them in the next round of belt-tightening, thanks to public outcries for more funding for those safety nets. And, as I mentioned in another comment below, if those who are engaging in this raw grab for tax revenues keep it up, they may find the publics' ire turned against them. Those they rely upon politically will sense the change in the wind, and act accordingly. And the DrugWar itself may eventually be held up to the scrutiny and debate that heretofore it has avoided because of the successful use of propaganda techniques ("We're trying to saaaaaave the chil-druuuunnnnnnnn!") to deflect that much-needed scrutiny. In short, not only would their 'easy money' Byrne Grants be threatened, but all DrugWar funding could be jeopardized.

This is one case where greed had better take a back-seat to practicality, as the limb they have to go out on to get the fruit they want to eat has been sawed almost in half by the economic situation; any further, and it will snap.

Anonymous said...

And, if anyone is curious as to what kind of propaganda techniques are regularly used against the public and drug law reformers, this NIDA paper from 1979 provides a very clearly understood primer on them: Themes in Chemical Prohibition by William L. White from: Drugs in Perspective, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1979. So, the next time you hear a familiar 'talking point' used in attempting to justify drug prohibition, you'll know from whence it came. Very handy...

Anonymous said...

Or in the case of Harris County's narcotics task force, they tried to diversify their grant portfolio by starting a secret counter terrorism squad in order to suck more money from the homeland security kitty.
It didn't work, they put TABC in charge of it and they all sorts of stupid things all in the name of making America safe from terrorism.
Most of the time they simply did racial profiling of arab business owners.

Unknown said...

Our local berg in Oregon abused publicity about the "meth epidemic" to get funding for a drug dog. The dog has never caught a major drug dealer and hasn't done much to find meth. But nobody can pass through Philomath without passing within 1000 feet of school and a lot of marijuana passes through this town from the public forests on the coast. We don't even get convictions: we just fine these guys and collect on the installment plan. We probably get several thousand dollars a month in fines. And not only that but local citizens and our cash strapped schools [who are way behind paying teachers: my spouse just got a cost of living increase for the first time in a decade- and that didn't make up for previous years] ponied up half the money needed. I was sitting with the school superintendent and listed five lies told by police about this "dangerous drug". Since three were lies of omission it should be pointed out that I volunteered to speak about real reasons not to use meth [like it was crap designed for hard core drug users by amateur chemists with no quality control for example] but was summarily dismissed. Yes, the drug war is a HUGE cash cow for local law enforcement.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, the drug war is a HUGE cash cow for local law enforcement."

But, as has been pointed out, as the economy contracts, and fewer people are paid large enough salaries to support taxes, the tax revenues will continue to shrink; consequently, they will have less money to pay those fines you mentioned...a fact that law enforcement will evince blithe unconcern...until it becomes evident to even the dimmest citizen that the laws allowing the 'invisible tax' which those fines in particular (and the general one the DrugWar represents) must be changed.

A point which the DrugWar bureaucracy's 'leadership' is well aware of...and is fighting tooth and nail. And the means they are using to do so, namely our tax dollars, would, in any rational examination of the practice, be deemed illegal.

The Hatch Act is supposed to prevent civil servants from using taxpayer-funded resources for self-swerving purposes, such as lobbying. Lobbying such as engaged in by people like head of the ONDCP, Johnny P(ee) Walters, who for years has been jetting hither and yon at taxpayer's expense, to States where referenda and legislation intent upon bringing rationality to drug laws via depenalization, to argue against it...and incidentally repeat propaganda and lies, while assiduously avoiding public debate.

That the ONDCP has effectively become a political arm of the Republican Party, 'just coincidentally' happening to be dispensing all manner of taxpayer's money in States with tight electoral races, has recently been the subject of Congressional scrutiny; bureaucrats like Johnny are supposed to be neutral functionaries, not political operatives. Such is the corruptive influence of the DrugWar; from top to bottom, it erodes the integrity of institutions as much as it does the integrity of individuals.

But their efforts cannot stem the economic tsunami that's coming. And that tsunami will leave little behind it in the way of 'disposable income' needed to fund this 'rich man's hobby' we call the DrugWar.

For you have to have a lot of that 'disposable income' in the form of surplus after paying the important 'bills' of things like national security and social safety nets. (And the dodge of trying to fold 'fighting drugs!' in with national security will work only for as long as people are willing to not look closely at it. The minute they do, they see a lot of 'pork'. And when times get tight, that 'pork' will get trimmed and re-allocated to those social safety nets, or the nation risks social upheaval. As someone once wrote, "No place is more than three missed meals away from a revolution."

America was not immune from this dynamic during the Depression (hence things like Social Security and other programs being developed during the Great Depression to stave off that terrible calculus) and is not immune to it now, and no amount of militarizing police in anticipation of it will prevent it, either.

Policies have inertia, just like a physical body in motion; they tend to keep going, until they meet something that slows or stops them. In this case, the policy inertia of the DrugWar is meeting the brick wall of economic realities. Unlike an actual physical body, however, the process is happening in slow motion, and at first was imperceptible. So long as there were 'good times' (for the DrugWarriors, an indicator of that was prison construction) the assumption was made that they would always continue, and economic growth would always soar above the mountains and valleys of boom-and-bust.

Any look at a history book shows how foolish that assumption was, and now it's time to pay the price for that assumption. With a war-emptied treasury and a near-hyperinflated currency kept alive by foreign loans made by nations whose future plans do not brook interference by the US, with the cost-of-living rising precipitously, that price will be very, very costly, indeed. Hard decisions will have to be made. And one of them will have to be the end of the DrugWar as we know it. Like the rich man who's lost everything in the stock market and has to sell his fancy mansion and all his expensive toys to keep a roof over his head and food on his table , we just can't afford the DrugWar, anymore...

Anonymous said...

It's all money laundering. You send your tax dollars to Washington, the state has to beg for some of it back, the state gets to repackage it under some fancy BS program, the cities and counties have to beg for some of this money which that was theirs to begin with, then they have get creative to produce some stats i order to get more money, the cops better get creative and juke the stats in order to keep their cushy little grant funded assignment.

Anonymous said...


"Perezluha said the sweep was led by the National Alliance of State Drug Enforcement Agencies as a national effort to highlight the importance of a federally funded program in assisting the day-to-day operations of drug enforcement.

Funding for the grant program, called the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Program, dropped 67 percent this year, according to the FDLE. Attorneys general, including Florida's Bill McCollum, are calling on Congress to restore the program's funding."

St. Petersburg Times, March 08

Anonymous said...

That's 757 in one day, in one state, Florida. To make a point... to get more money.

DueProcessIsDue@hotmail.com said...

Well a lot of people seem to be falling for this kind of "law enforcement". A similar thing is happening in Florida right now concerning child solicitation internet stings. The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces are blatantly violating their own rules to create crime so they can continue to get more grant money from the Department of Justice. However, because we are not talking about drugs but about consensual sex with teenagers, nobody seems to care to see through any of it.

Please visit http://floridascandal.blogspot.com for proof that these stings are illegal. Look at the kinds of ads that are being used in real stings that prove they are not targeting child predators. Most, if not all, of these men are being set up all for the sake of grant money and not for the sake of protecting our children.