Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tulia-style mass drug bust in Wichita Falls perpetuates cycle instead of breaking it

Whenever I see reports of large drug stings like the one described this week in the Wichita Falls Times-Record News ("Sheriff expects more arrests," March 25), where 44 people so far have been arrested in a roundup following a long-term undercover operation, I always think of the infamous drug busts in Tulia and Hearne, where innocent people were caught up in similar drug stings netting dozens of convictions based on testimony from a lying cop and a coerced, mentally ill informant, respectively. Rather than track drug sources up the ladder looking for kingpins and cartel connections, in these sorts of "sweep" operations, agencies seek to maximize the number of penny-ante arrests by making small-time buy-busts using informants or undercover narcs, typically without ever disrupting the availability of drugs in the least. (Bail on the most serious offender was $175,000; we're not talking about Pablo Escobar here.)

Just as in Tulia and Hearne, the local media is already participating in the demonization of these defendants, including posting all their mug shots, helping sour the jury pool in a way that's actually not allowed in Britain and some other western countries. What's the journalistic value of publishing photos like this one in small-time drug possession cases?

A spokesperson from the Wichita DA's office said she "hoped the local law enforcement efforts would help break what she called a perpetual cycle of drug abuse and sales." But given the thousands upon thousands of low-level drug arrests over the past four decades, how can anyone think these 44 arrests will now, magically "break ... a perpetual cycle"? It's hard to believe people still say that sort of thing with a straight face.

There's a growing criticism among reformers that even drug courts and various criminal justice-driven treatment programs, while well intentioned, are doomed to fail by funneling treatment support through the justice system instead of treating addiction as a public health problem. When I've got more time, I have much more to say about those provocative critiques, whose insights are important and IMO partially correct, but too narrow and dismissive of evidence-based successes. Certainly, though, I agree that arresting low-level drug offenders en masse is among the least cost-effective ways to approach the problem. These type of throw-back tactics to the bad old days of Tulia-style drug task forces arguably combat drugs in the most expensive, least effective fashion, reducing neither drug addiction nor the availability of drugs in any meaningful way.


kseago said...

These types of mass drug busts always remind me of when 121 folks were arrested in our shared hometown Tyler in 1979. The precursor investigations are rarely stellar examples of police work and the subsequent prosecutions do nothing to reduce drug use or availability. I'd like to think we learn from our past but there's little evidence to be found.

Charlie O said...

The war on drugs = a war on the American people. Nothing more.

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase Full Metal Jacket, when it comes to the Drug War, there are two kinds of stories: "hearts and minds" and "dead gooks."

You see examples of the first type of story whenever the local media covers a DARE program or a "just say no" rally at the neighborhood elementary school. This Wichita Falls story, like Tulia, is an example of the second kind of story, the body count.

Anonymous said...

Are "drug offenders" the same thing as "drug dealers?"

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:58, possession arrests make up 89% of Texas drug offenses.

If they were all "dealers," they'll have found a stash at everyone's house, right? Bet they didn't. Instead they'll have some informant on tape from months ago and likely few if any drugs from these 44 busts. Watch and see.

Prison Doc said...

In my hometown, all of the "big drug busts" are staged by the "task force". Much more of an exercise in enabling and entrapment than any kind of law enforcement. And of course, all of the "busts" are carefully orchestrated to be in "drug free zones", another joke if there ever was one.

Anonymous said...

The value in publishing their mug-shots is that in small, po-dunk towns, people are nosy and it sells newspapers.

Anonymous said...

Hope they are given better defense attorneys than the ones in
Tulia. Those guys (and girls)
rolled over for the DA like someone
doing a fire drill.

Anonymous said...

The majority of the suspects had at least one count of manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance with the drugs named in the indictments including cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and simulated drugs. Some had several charges levied against them.

Anonymous said...

Wichita County has for the last couple of years released photos to the media for all major crimes worked. They aren't picking on this group.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Wow, 10:01, a solid majority, huh? How many were caught with a significant stash? That's what tells you how many real drug dealers were caught. "Delivery" can be an informant convincing an addict to score for them, or any number of other circumstances. If these were all (or even half) actually "dealers," police would have found actual dealer-level quantities of drugs when they arrested them. If they did, it wasn't in the news stories.

And to 10:37 (same person?), I understand the police department's motivation for WANTING the photos published, and I get that they actively push that tactic with the media. I'm sure you're right it's been going on for years. I just don't understand why the Times Record News editors think there's any journalistic merit in allowing themselves to be used that way.

Anonymous said...

How much crack cocaine should one be allowed to sell before they should suffer any consequence? These people weren't charged with possession, they were charged with delivery.

I would have expected that you would have at least waited for more information before passing judgement and comparing this operation to the dirty, no-good officers in Tulia. I guess time will tell.

ckikerintulia said...

Unfortunately, 8:08 AM anonymous, time will not necessarily tell. At this point, I have no opinion on the guilt or innocence of those charged. Actually, I'm supposed to presume innocence until guilt is proven. I don't know how the presumed evidence was gathered. Probably a little more carefully than in Tulia, but maybe not. Tulia was a long time ago. But unless there is careful and extensive investigative work by the defense or some organization that wants to go beyond police reports, the only thing time will tell is that these people will go to prison. And 44 or 88 more people will step in to try to make a little money.

Anonymous said...

Well Grits yet again you think that you know it all when it comes to drugs....

Just in case you didn't know drug dealer sell drugs...

When you sell drugs, there comes a time when you will run low and have to resupply...
Maybe that is why there wasn't a lot of drugs seized when they were arrested...

I ask you... Is it OK for a person to sell a small amount of drugs to a lot of people? Or is it better to sell a lot of drugs to a few people?

Do you really think that it is OK for people to sell and use illegal drugs?

How about your grandson? What would you feel if he wanted to start using cocaine....Is that OK?

About the possession stats...

Isn't it hard to sell, or use drugs without possessing them?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:08, you misunderstand me. I'm not accusing anyone of perjury. My comparison to Tulia, Hearne and the drug task forces regarded the tactic of pursuing these long-term low-level buy bust operations that go after little fish but make no effort to work their way up the chain. For more background, see this public-policy report I wrote in 2002 criticizing the fundamental structure of drug task forces and these types of long-term undercover investigations aimed at low-level users.

According to 10:01, quite a few of these are possession-only, non-dealing cases. I'm willing to bet most of the others are for small amounts and little or no drugs were seized upon arrest. That's the usual pattern when you see busts in the dozens like this. Shooting 44 little fish in a barrel may make for a good, single-day headline for the local PD, but as Rev. Charles says, even if they're all full-blown, in-the-game drug dealers (most of whom, studies show, make so little they live with their mothers) all you've really done is create 44 new, quickly filled entry-level job openings and cost taxpayers millions in incarceration costs.

And 9:15, you ask us to believe that all 44 drug dealers ran out of their supply simultaneously, the night before the big Wichita Falls drug bust? If that's true, WFPD has a mole. Much more likely, many of these people weren't actual, in-the-game drug dealers, just little fish caught in the net.

As for my granddaughter (no grandson), the best I can do is teach her the difference between right and wrong and hope she makes good choices. But if she happens to make a bad choice, I don't see how getting wrapped up in something like this would benefit her in the least.

Wendy said...

Well anonymous is, of course, a total idiot, it amazes me how many people can watch a 60 minutes special and become dea experts. It has happened that a major drug dealer has been caught low on supply but out of 44 drug arrests no one of them has an aggregated case? That's low level drug dealing and I've watched a couple of media specials on this. What Scott is saying is we don't go after the big guns anymore, the ones actually profiting from the drugs, not just the ones supporting their own habit. And, no, I don't think that means any of us want our sons or grandsons addicted to drugs, omg

Anonymous said...

Doesn't matter the Sheriff wants to build an new jail or not, these people had drugs somewhere in the house. Therefore they are guilty, or so it seems at least in Wichita Falls.

The new jail the sheriff wants to build has nothing to do with this either? The jail gets filled to capacity during the Christmas and New Year holidays, thus the request for a new, larger jail and then Spring, fill the jail to over flow and then want a new jail.

Funny how these little reminders come along about every 4-6 months. New jail is not needed!!!

Prison Doc said...

I love a good chain of discussion, but this is the sort that leaves me so depressed. So many folks who have not seen the "drug task force industry" from both sides sincerely think that locking up all these small fish really helps, when all it does is destroy lives and add to the taxpayer burden.

And what of the small fish? Well, they aren't corrected or rehabilitated--by and large they are made unemployable and given a functional life sentence for a bunch of nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Grits said:

"How many were caught with a significant stash? That's what tells you how many real drug dealers were caught."

No, it only tells you how many real drug dealers were smart enough not to have their "stash" on the same premises as their two feet.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:30, perhaps all 44 of them were keeping their drugs in their vacation homes or safe-deposit boxes at the bank?

Or, maybe WFPD wasted months of investigation time to bust a few dozen penny-ante users but never actually figured out who any of the wholesalers are? That's how it appears so far from what's been reported. Someone in the comment section mentioned that "34 of them were busted for 'under 1 gram.'" Most of those aren't "drug dealers," at least not ones of any significance.

Anonymous said...

from 8:08 to grits

My bad. :)

Anonymous said...

yea we had one here in florida arrested after a traffic stop. Always suprises me how stupid crooks can be or how stupid police think WE are. Why would anyone with drugs in their vehicle give anyone permission to even look in the window let alone open it and search.

But this guy was arrested with intnet to destribute! had the massive amount of good old WEED of 1 oz!

a real drug king!

Anonymous said...

Gritsforbreakfast said...
"11:30, perhaps all 44 of them were keeping their drugs in their vacation homes or safe-deposit boxes at the bank?"

Or, maybe they were keeping them in a storage warehouse or abandoned lot full of junk. Rule #1 for a successful drug dealer: never be within arms reach of the product. It can mean the difference between simple possession and trafficking.

If you ever expect to catch serious dealers, you will have to start giving them more credit in the intelligence department than you do. Dealers aren't stupid. Just the ones who get caught.

Anonymous said...

Well the masses seem to think that drugs are not something that the police should worry about.

Did anyone consider that approximately 85% of crimes are drug related?

The drug Task Forces filled a void in what the State and Federal Agencies enforced.

People don't see the Kingpins out on the corner selling to people. That is what the Task Forces would tend to.

In fact DPS Narcotics will not even work a case unless it involved what is known as a Drug Trafficking Organization.

It sometimes takes months, even years to make a prosecutable case against them.

Do you know where most of these big cases start?

From someone at the lower end of the spectrum...thats where.

So for everyone that thinks that you only go after the " Big Fish " this might be somewhat as a shock.

It is not easy to work these types of cases, and it will involve cooperation from numerous Agencies.

As far as the number of arrest....It is a simple case of conducting a thourough investigation, with it ending with the arrest of the persons who were breaking the law.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that someone still feels the need to beat the Tulia drum?

If there had been some supervision on Tom Coleman, there would not have been such an upheaval about this incident, but those people that were arrested would still have been, just without the fanfare of the poor underprivledged colored folks.

Anonymous said...

You would probably have to go to Old Mexico to get the dealers cooks or whatever, I don't see anyone rushing over there to offer rehab. Could get a rude awaking. I agree with Prison Doc. I see that happening everyday.

Cat said...

This from the local KAUZ News site, "Indictments were unsealed as each suspect was processed Thursday. Most of the charges resulted from small amount purchases of cocaine."

So - same grandstanding game as always...Elected law enforcement officials get free face time on the local news that gives voters the warm fuzzies to remember at the ballot box.
Sweet deal.

Unfortunately they haven't really done anything except add to an incarceration budget that's already bursting at the seams.

Busting users and dealers that are one level above users, that's like spitting on a raging forest fire.

Have to move way, way up the food chain to make a real difference. The reality is there aren't any truly "big" dealers in cities the size of Wichita Falls - not of real difference making size anyway.

but they looked good on TV yeh?

Anonymous said...

3/29/2011 08:42:00 PM said:
"You would probably have to go to Old Mexico to get the dealers cooks or whatever.."

Oh no. Even if you live in the big city, the guys selling pounds of weed, jars of pills, and several ounces of crack are living right in your neighborhood. They're just not stupid enough to keep their products in their own garages.

Anonymous said...

How come everyone is still hung up on the small amounts of cocaine being sold?

Nobody stands on the street and sells kilograms, pounds, or ounces.

You might be able to purchase an 8 ball, but that would be pushing it.

Anonymous said...


You said: "Someone in the comment section mentioned that "34 of them were busted for 'under 1 gram.'" Most of those aren't "drug dealers," at least not ones of any significance."

Isn't that a measurable amount and it's adulterates that equaled 1 gram or less?