Sunday, November 06, 2011

Budget reduction for Cali drug task forces not comparable to Texas cuts

Long-time readers will recall that in Grits' earliest days ('04-06), this blog focused a great deal on the flaws and fallacies underlying Texas' now-defunct network of regional, multi-county drug task forces financed by the federal Byrne grant program, at least until Governor Rick Perry took away their funding and shifted it toward drug courts, diversion programs, and border security. Indeed, I've suggested in the past that other states should follow Perry's lead. So I was fascinated to learn (via Drug War Rant) that California will soon eliminate state funds for their comparable drug task force network because they can't afford the 25% state match for the grant. Reports the Eureka (CA) Times Standard:
The California Attorney General's Office issued notice to most of the state's 52 drug task forces -- including Humboldt County's -- that it will be pulling its agents and fiscal support effective Jan. 1 due to sharp state budget cuts to the office's Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement.

In an effort to bridge a then-$26 billion state budget gap, the Legislature approved a $71 million reduction to the bureau's $77 million budget next year -- a cut that will trigger the loss of an additional $40 million in matching funds. As a result, the Department of Justice is expected to lay off more than 200 agents before Jan. 1. Humboldt County Drug Task Force Cmdr. Dan Harward expects to be among them.

”Personally, I'm operating under that assumption,” said Harward, who moved his family to the area from Southern California last fall to head the task force.
According to reports, "In a Wednesday statement, Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) said the DOJ cuts won't result in the layoffs of any local law enforcement officers, but 'may result in a reduction of coordination between the Attorney General's Office and local law enforcement programs.'" So unlike here, the task forces aren't just going away.

At their height, Texas boasted 53 regional narcotics task forces employing around 700 officers. Counties and local agencies came up with all the matching funds themselves - mostly in the form of employee salaries and asset forfeiture income - while in Cali there seems to be more state infrastructure, which is what's being cut. California Governor Jerry Brown hasn't proposed nearly as radical a fix as that enacted under Rick Perry, who redirected all the federal Byrne grant money to other areas. They're only eliminating the state's portion of the matching funds, leaving the task forces to operate on their own. By comparison, Gov. Perry first signed legislation to increase supervision by the state of drug task forces, only eliminating their funding when they proved  essentially ungovernable.

So rather than following in Texas' footsteps, in a way California is now devolving to what Texas was doing in the pre-Tulia era, when regional task forces operated with no practical state supervision. With Cali already facing an overincarceration crisis replete with federal court orders to reduce the nonviolent prison population, Governor Brown would do well to follow Rick Perry's lead, shifting Byrne money entirely from low-level drug enforcement to fund treatment, diversion and alternative sentencing instead of just reducing task forces' accountability.

1 comment:

Adina said...

That doesn't sound good.

With a little bit of Googling I don't see any NGO attention to the issue. Your post comes up but nothing from ACLU, NAACP, or anybody else active on California criminal justice issues.

Meanwhile the US DOJ is still active in pursuing medical marijuana providers in California because, well, no good reason.