Thursday, April 12, 2012

Roundup: Homeland security, privacy, trooper vacancies and Mexican cartels

Here are few, disparate items that merit Grits readers' attention:

Mexican cartels in Texas
241 cartel operatives have been arrested in Texas since 2009, DPS Col. Steve McCraw told the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee this morning. He said cartels inside Mexico are using "terrorist tactics" for criminal operations, but not yet on the US side. He mentioned a point Grits has emphasized before, that cartels have "leveraged" Texas prison gangs for use as assassins and smugglers inside Mexico, reinforcing the fact that most of the real "spillover" so far has gone southward.

Chronic trooper vacancies at DPS
McCraw also told the committee the Department of Public Safety will be down to 280 vacancies after its next recruiting class, down from 340 right now. He said the biggest problem was recruitment, with low wages compared to other law enforcement agencies like Austin or Plano.

Lege raid on victim compensation funds leaves it drying up
The Crime Victim Compensation Fund is headed for insolvency, the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee was told yesterday, after the Legislature raided the fund in 2011 to balance the budget. Said Daniel Hodge of the AG's office, "Short-term stability and long-term viability are at risk now."

On sentencing and job prospects
A former Texas FBI agent received a downward sentencing departure in his federal criminal case because the judge felt he was additionally punished by the effects of a criminal conviction on his future job prospects, declaring, “Your life is pretty much ruined in terms of any law enforcement job.” Isn't that true of pretty much everybody with a felony conviction?

Sunset: Voters wanted ethics, not just disclosure
Editorialized the Austin Statesman, "Since its creation, ... the Ethics Commission has not referred a single ethics investigation to prosecutors and has mostly levied relatively small fines for failure to properly file financial disclosure statements and other similar paperwork." Sunset staff put it bluntly: "The people of Texas had every reason to believe they were getting an ethics agency when they voted for the constitutional amendment creating the Texas Ethics Commission in 1991. They did not vote for a Disclosure Filing Commission and likely would not have done so."

When the rent comes due: Homeland security edition
The feds have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on homeland security equipment of all stripes for local government over the last decade. Now, notes the Tennessean, the burden shifts to cities and counties to pay for the equipment's upkeep.

What proportion of the public commits crimes?
In New York City's massive stop and frisk program, about 12% of police encounters resulted in arrests or summons, reported New York magazine, which implies that about 12% of the public at any given time may be breaking the law. I mention it because Grits was interested a couple of years ago to see data from a drivers license and insurance checkpoint in San Angelo that one in 6 drivers stopped were ticketed or arrested. What does it say about Americans that 12-16% of the public are breaking the law if you stop them more or less randomly on the street? Does it say more about the "criminals," or the government? As a corollary, it reminds me of a question I heard posed some years ago by a now-forgotten source: If it were possible to construct a machine capable of enforcing every law on the books at all times and punishing everyone who broke them, would you build it? Could we even afford to?

Protecting privacy: Beyond the Constitution
Most legal privacy protections in federal law arise from statutes, not Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, and scholar Erin Murphy has helpfully compiled and analyzed those statutory provisions, noting that "at least four Supreme Court justices recently suggested in United States v. Jones that the proper scope of privacy protection might be a topic better left to legislatures than courts." Her article seeks to answer the question, "what does the federal statutory approach to regulating privacy from the police look like, and in what ways does that mimic, overlap with, or differ from the Fourth Amendment constitutional approach?"

Being Human, 2012
Slightly off topic, but I watched the opening segment on "Perception and Sensations" from the Being Human 2012 conference online yesterday and it was fascinating. See the full array of presentations here. See a summary of the talk from The Thoughtful Animal.


Anonymous said...

Really sad to see the Crime Victims Fund being raided. Can't tell you how many times children who are victims of sex abuse need the funds for counseling when they reach adolescence and the issues resurface.
There are a host of other crime victim needs as well. When I hear of how much money is sitting in the fund I can't help but wonder how well Prosecutor's offices are communicating to victims about the fund.
My neighbor was a crime victim and the offender was placed on probation for 10 years. The offender was ordered to pay restitution but was not making payments and then stopped altogether after two years. When my neighbor asked if he could get CV funding he was told not unless the offender was revoked and only then could my neighbor file a claim.
If this is normal protocol maybe victims should be paid from the fund immediately and then the offender should pay the crime victim fund over the next 10 years.
This fund should be hands off for any other use than to help crime victims.

Anonymous said...

Re: Crime Victim's Comp

Or how about the story of a Mom who figured out her husband was molesting their daughter. She took the child to a pediatrician and the child finally was able to tell about the abuse.
Then the child's world really exploded... Dad was arrested. His name was put in the local paper. And you know, both the kids were in the paper the same day for being on the Honor Roll.The neighbors probably saw that... and from that point the daughter was looked at funny.
The DA wanted to maybe go for 40 years in prison... and that really should have been 40 in a mental hospital. But after it was found out that Crime Victims Compensation does not help 11 year old victims with loss of support -- it became very clear that the State was treating the family as though the mom had two kids out of wedlock... THERE WAS GOING TO BE ZERO HELP FROM THE STATE TO CONTINUE TO HELP PAY THE BILLS SO THE CHILDREN COULD BE RAISED PROPERLY. Sorry, but the dad was making $100,000 a year and the mom was making zero (just a stay-at-home mom).

So, in my opinion, the daughter was abused by her father and the state of texas.
She had to move - house got forclosed on.
She lost her medical insurance - and her brother too.
She lost her position in middle class america...

Maybe it's changed by now, but CVC should help the guardians of abuse victims. Not forever. Maybe five years...

CPS gave mom a list of charities to help with finding food. Maybe they should have a special program that allows for temporary food vouchers or something.

The mom, who tried to do the right thing, went into the food stamp office shortly after the arrest. Had $40 to her name, but "owned" a $150,000 house. NO FOOD STAMPS FOR HER!

Abuse happened to the dad back in the 1960's. The mom then did not say anything. Took her husband to a shrink. And then she took trips to Europe!

May God Bless and Help Families of Abuse.

Can't carry bitterness, so...


Anonymous said...

@ 9:38
Unfortunately,your account seems to have a reverberating ring across other victims encounter with CVC. I know there are people who have received assistance from CVC.
Really would like to see the lege look into the CVC polices, who and what have been paid, and possible remedies before raiding the funds.

sunray's wench said...

"Lege raid on victim compensation funds leaves it drying up."

So the new TDCJ phone system isn't making a profit yet then? Because the first $2million if I remember correctly from that enterprise was supposed to go directly into the Victim Compensation Fund.

But according to The Backgate:
"The offender phone system installed in Texas prisons has raised $14.2 million dollars in revenue for fiscal year 2011. From that, the State of Texas took a cut of $ 5.7 million in commissions stated a TDCJ spokesperson who spoke to the Backgate. Those commissions go directly into the crime victims fund, or the State's general fund after certain annual percentages are reached within the crime victims fund. "

So where has that $5.7 million really gone if the Fund is now empty?

Perhaps NOW the Lege will consider increasing the minutes allowance and letting inmates call family overseas. I'm more than willing to pay my share, regardless of where it ends up.

Anonymous said...

RE: Trooper vacancies

....and a ridiculous training regiment based on based on hazing and "tradition" that turn off otherwise capable candidates.

Hook Em Horns said...

Chronic trooper vacancies at DPS
McCraw also told the committee the Department of Public Safety will be down to 280 vacancies after its next recruiting class, down from 340 right now. He said the biggest problem was recruitment, with low wages compared to other law enforcement agencies like Austin or Plano.


Pay them more or just open it up to out if state felons like they have done before.

Anonymous said...

Most of the "spillover" so far has gone southward?

Mexico has sent 25-30 million northward across the border--probably a lot more than that. How many were gang members or later became gang members, nobody knows. Our prisons are absolutely filled with them. When I check visitor's IDs at TYC, I see the Country of Mexico IDs that they hand me. It's the same at the prisons.

Anonymous said...

Grits ,as a DPS employee and avid reader of your blog I am glad to see some press on the number of Trooper vacancies in Texas. The number is growing everyday as the attrition rate at DPS is 10-15 troopers lost per month due to retirements and those leaving to the private sector for more pay. This is especially true in the Trooper ranks of the commercial vehicle enforcement division (DOT)as the demand in the private sector for safety/inspection employees has grown in Texas due to the oil boom.

One thing not mentioned concerning the current 340 vacancies is the fuel budget. The number is only partially correct. DPS must maintain 250 some odd vacancies in order to use the salary monies to pay the fuel bill. Due to the Legislature historically underfunding the fuel budget. So in reality the total number of vacancies cannot be filled, even if by some miracle we could find perspective people to become Troopers for 45K a year.

Col. McCraw is also counting his chickens before they hatch expecting the vacancy total to fall to 280 after the next recruit class. The DPS academy is no joke, it last 18+ weeks, you must live in Austin away from your family and it has been compared in difficulty to Marine Boot Camp physically. Add in 8-10 hours of book/classroom work a day and the mental demand on recruits is sky high. The attrition rate varies from 20-30% of recruits dropping or failing to make the academy.

So, if Texas wants quality Troopers it is going to have to pay way more to compete with the large police dept. throughout the State. I am reminded of a DPS Trooper Recruiter telling me his frustration while attempting to recruit current soldiers leaving the military. Austin, Dallas, Ft. Worth and San Antonio PD were present. All those agencies did to recruit was post the pay scale. DPS is 20-25K per year behind those agencies. That is the sole reason we cannot hire or retain employees.

Please help get this problem out to the public, whenever I am asked by the public concerning the number of vacancies and why people do not see Troopers the way they use to. They are shocked to hear the number of vacancies. This problem requires the Legislature's attention before it gets worse.


Anonymous said...

I am friends with someone that recently applied to DPS and was made privy to the horror stories he went through trying to get hired. He's a decent guy with credentials including state certification and a clean background but they did everything they could to keep him out because he wasn't young enough for their tastes. Whatever is being reported by the state in terms of vacancies, you could triple and it wouldn't be enough to cover the manpower needs that grow as fast as the population, especially as smaller communities cut back on law enforcement and rely on the state more.

Don Dickson said...

Salaries are not the only problem for DPS, and by some accounts not even the biggest problem. Sure, the starting pay is a lot less than Austin PD, but in most parts of Texas the local Trooper is the best-paid officer for many miles around.

The work schedule is an enormous turn-off for many potential applicants. A typical Trooper works a 9-hour shift with an unpaid meal break, for two weeks of days and two weeks of nights, with one weekend off each month. Almost every other department throughout Creation has adopted 10- and 12-hour shifts which allow for more days off and a vastly better opportunity for a normal personal and family life.

And for a job which purports to offer so much more autonomy than an officer has at a county or municipal department, a lot of our Troopers have precious little autonomy in the manner in which they carry out their duties.

And we won't even mention that the current administration, by executive fiat, has denied the entire Criminal Investigations Division their statutory right to engage in secondary employment. No, we won't even mention that. :-)

As the previous commenter noted, DPS loses 15 officers a month. And I can promise you that the DEA, the Border Patrol, even the Secret Service, let alone the trucking companies, are not recruiting the Department's marginal employees. They're cherry-picking our best.

One of the big compensation-related issues isn't the pay, per se, but the elongated career progression built into Schedule C of the state salary classifications. A new Trooper won't earn Trooper II pay for four years, and won't earn Trooper III pay for four years after that. It takes 20 years to max out...I think an APD officer maxes out at something like eight years. Ohh, and you have to pass a written test and an oral board interview to get those career progressions. The whole thing is very, very archaic.

Even without a raise in pay, if the Legislature would fix that career progression, that would help enormously. But I think the work schedule is the number one thing that hinders the Department's recruiting efforts.

Anonymous said...

You can't fix the pay problem if the comparision is to DEA, Secret Service, etc. Their's is based on the job skills of a criminal investigator - not a road trooper -and unless you are going to pay $100,000 to a journeyman trooper writing traffic tickets, you will never compete on salary alone. Making better work conditions, as Dickson states, including a professional academy (not geared to a "knucklehead" military mentality), hours, location and duty assignment, transfer system, training, etc. along with some increase in salary ($60,000 a year) after completing the academy) are the only way you can compete.

I do have one question though. If the troopers are so short of personnel 1), why do they continue to have troopers work narcotics investigations (it's just a money-eating hole in the ground) and 2) why do they continue to waste troopers at the DMV facilities across the state? Highly trained troopers working as security guards? Hire Wack-a-mole Security guards and call a local if there is a problem. How many hundreds of troopers are wasted statewide simply working building security?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Dickson,

May I ask what statutary right an investigator has to work an extra job? In comparing the salaries of troopers to SOME federal LE, please remember they are also denied the privilege to work extra jobs renting out their badge (a State-owned badge, by the way) and gun to the highest (or most convenient) bidder.

Anonymous said...

There are several problems with DPS in its' ability to retain current employees and hire new ones. The big Three is the list below:

1. Low pay, starting pay needs to be 60K per year in order to compete and hire new employees.

2. Career progession must be fixed. 20 years as a Trooper patrol officer to reach max pay while PD patrol officers reach max pay in 8-10 years.

3. The schedule, an unpaid lunch hour while the Trooper is expected to respond to calls and continue police duties while on lunch break. In addition, like Don Dickson said: 9 hour days of two weeks days and two weeks nights is hard on the body, sleep schedule, family life, pursuing further education etc...It is easy when your 20 something and single but a kick in the pants when your 40 with two kids and a wife.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:14,

Sorry but an unscheduled/unpaid lunch doesn't lead to anyone quitting. If you work it, have Dickson arrange to sue for OT if you don't get to take it at a later time. LOTS of people have to take lunch without pay and are expected to continue working if an issue comes up, catching lunch at a later time. Why should the public be expected to pay for a trooper's lunch time when the trooper isn't on patrol writing tickets (or maintaining public order or doing whatever one wants to classify as a trooper's duties? Simply because other LE officers have managed to pull off that scam?

Don Dickson said...

The statutory right of DPS officers to engage in secondary employment is found in Texas Government Code §411.0077. Polunsky and McCraw and CID chief Tom Ruocco took it away from the CID Agents by executive order under the theory that they "might" potentially be called upon to work undercover at some point...even if they never have before.

The Department doesn't have "Troopers" working narcotics investigations. These are handled by Agents in the Criminal Investigations Division. (For salary purposes they have the same rank and pay as THP sergeants.) Troopers must promote into CID.

But I would agree with you about the money-eating hole part.

As for Troopers working in the DL offices: DPS used to have commissioned officers in the DL Division, but now they apparently staff these offices with THP Troopers. The Department's rationale is that issuing DLs is a law enforcement function and a homeland security function, so they want a uniformed presence in the DL offices. They catch a lot of "fugitives" this way (mostly people with a failure to appear on a traffic citation, but some others, too).

Anonymous said...

Mr. Dickson,

Thanks for the response. As for the troopers in DL offices, I suspect the rationale is simply to offer security (terrorism has become like drugs, an excuse to justify ones actions to outsiders). In this case to provide security to the DL and possibly a place to shuttle certain employees off to. A process to arrange a local cop to respond would be much more cost effective - "We'll have that licence for you in just a minute. Will you just wait over there, please?" Does anyone thiink the State Department has Diplomatic Security Agents sitting on their hands at every passport office waiting for an arrest for fraud? Talk about wasting manpower. Again, thanks...and to you Grits. Always enjoy the show!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"As for the troopers in DL offices, I suspect the rationale is simply to offer security (terrorism has become like drugs, an excuse to justify ones actions to outsiders)"

FWIW, long before 9/11, there were troopers in the DL offices to arrest scofflaws when they came in to renew their licenses.

Anonymous said...

There have been Troopers in DL offices going back to the 1950's. At one time a Trooper was the one who gave the driving test when you were a teenager and went in for your license. Civilian employees now handle all functions in a DL office except for making arrest for warrants or investigating DL or identity fraud which the Troopers handle. DPS has streamlined the DL offices throughout the State in the last 5 years and cut the number of Troopers in each office to 1 or 2 and then only at major regional office. Most of your small town offices do not have Troopers present.

Anonymous said...

Appreciate the comments from Grits and 12:48. The use of terrorism, I suggest, is simply the latest iteration of justifications used by any bureaucracy to justify their preferred actions - basically whatever will sell is used for a specific audience. as for troopers being used historically in DLs, LE has been used for numerous jobs over the history of policing but in an era of police costs actually banrupting cities, highly trained and very costly employees can be better used. Especially when slots can't be filled and personnel line items are left emply to fund fule costs. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Unrelated note. When personnel are recruited from the military it tends to predominatley be from the enlisted ranks. I wonder if that lack of commissioned officer skill sets (whatever they may be) has a long-term impact on policing as a whole.

Does the difference between commissioned officers (academy/college educated; military officer culture, etc.) in the military create a different culture or organization than a police shop where enlisted personnel (obviously, not all personnel in a department) rise to leadership roles? Grits or anyone else have a view on this? Thanks.

Jean Val Jean said...

Comparing pay to APD, the best compensated city police in the state, might be a bit much but it is certainly a factor. The breaks issue is smaller but part of a larger mentality of requiring officers to work for free many times, the result just being another hurdle for recruiters to face. While employees may not leave over that, a substandard pension, or all the other issues that have come up in the discussion, the sum total of them is that you are not paid well compared to ANY of the major cities, have to work more, and can be whisked away to work obscure parts of the state when you piss off the right person. No thanks.