Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Hyping Harm: Media should welcome, not decry cuts to federal Byrne grant program

Texas law enforcement agencies have already experienced the political tumult from closing down regional drug task forces funded by the federal Byrne grant program, but in states where they still operate, local officials and the media are just starting to realize the jig may be up, with a 2/3 cut scheduled in the next federal budget. I've been tracking the (mostly negative) press coverage around the cuts, and typical of quite a few recent stories on the topic was this recent TV News item from Oklahoma:
Drug task forces across the state got a nearly 70% funding cut. That means several task forces will shut down, others will try to stay afloat.

The Tulsa County Drug Task Force is one of the ones trying to stay afloat. Now they've only got the funding for two members. ...

In Tulsa County, two spots are in jeopardy, with funding tumbling from $120,000 a year to $49,000.

"It will be more of, okay we know you're out there, eventually when we get some funding we'll catch you", says Sergeant Bob Darby.

Sergeant Darby says Tulsa is lucky. Bordering counties will have to shut down completely.
From Texas' experience, though, there's reason to believe Tulsa may actually be better off working on their own than with a task force. In Lubbock, when they abolished their task force for fear of civil liability by rogue officers, they discovered that drug arrests in Lubbock actually increased, because enforcers weren't spread as thin working low-yield cases in rural areas.

Most drug crimes occur in cities and larger communities, not out in BFE where a lot of task forces operate. That's especially true now that restrictions on pseudoephedrine sales have shifted most meth production from domestic "Mom and Pop" users to violent Mexican cartels.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, hardly any of the local media coverage on this topic includes alternative voices, like Dr. David Mulhausen from the Heritage Foundation who says the program suffers from an exceptional level of "waste and abuse."

In Nebraska, a local TV station reports, officials IMO are doing the most responsible thing, if they really believe these task forces deserve to be funded: Seeking authority from the Legislature to pay for them with local tax increases. "Supporters have written a state amendment to allow municipalities and counties an exception, to levy and [lift] limits to provide funding if necessary."

That a more honest and reasonable approach, to me, than launching a PR campaign to oppose cutting pork barrel grants (during wartime, no less). Anyway, my copy of the constitution contains nothing about a federal responsibility (much less authority) to pay salaries for local police.
Local taxes should pay for local law enforcement.

Drug task forces funded by the federal Byrne grant program are a failed experiment, and it's time to try a different approach.


No comments: