Saturday, August 01, 2020

Drug War Deja Vu: Fort Bend drug interdiction targets black, Latino drivers

At the Houston Chronicle, our pals Eric Dexheimer and St. John Barned Smith (aka, "Sinjin") examine racial disparities in traffic stops by a drug-interdiction task force in Fort Bend County, finding that they overwhelmingly stopped Latino drivers. 
Just under 90 percent of the motorists stopped by Todd Ganey, a Richmond Police Department officer assigned to the team, were Black or Hispanic, according to 2019 records from the Fort Bend Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the task force. Nearly three of every four stops Danny Tondera made last year were of Hispanic drivers.

An analysis of traffic stops made over the past two years by Gillory shows just under 98 percent of the drivers he pulled over were Hispanic. Gillory searched 187 of the vehicles, all but two driven by Hispanics; 94 percent of the time the searches came to nothing.
This was a county drug task force, which was reconstituted after the state's network of 50+ multi-county narcotics task forces was defunded and disbanded by Gov. Rick Perry. This news, combined with recent reports (several of them also by St. John Barned-Smith) about the Houston PD Narcotics Division audit, reminds Grits how little has changed regarding the methods, patterns and practices of routine drug enforcement since Rick Perry shuttered regional-drug task forces in Texas almost 15 years ago.

During the period when we were fighting to abolish and defund Texas drug-task forces - mostly via the ACLU of Texas, what was then the Texas Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (they later dropped the "reform"), and Tulia Friends of Justice, which was organizing family members of the accused (they later dropped the "Tulia") - I produced a pair of reports detailing problems with drug task forces that, when re-read today, sound eerily similar to problems at HPD and the Fort Bend Task Force:
Too Far Off Task describes drug-enforcement practices that would fit right in at the Houston PD Narcotics Division. The second report in particular includes examples that don't differ significantly from the Fort Bend County case study.

Drug enforcement hasn't changed much in two decades, is my takeaway from comparing past iterations of Drug-War scandals with these recent stories.  We didn't fix the fundamental problems after Tulia - racially discriminatory drug enforcement, corrupt informants, asset-forfeiture-driven policing priorities - and so now see them all rear their ugly heads again.

4 comments:

Steven Michael Seys said...

Some people rebel against authority, some people comply with authority, and some people abuse authority. But most people have no problems with authority. It's only the exceptions that stand out, like these drug enforcement officers who abuse their authority to harass people against whom they hold prejudice.
What I would like to see is some examples of people who do it right, to hold up before the others as persons to emulate.

Anonymous said...

I cannot read the full paid Houston Chronicle article so pose the below questions/thoughts.

Are you saying the officers didn’t observe traffic violations prior to the traffic stops? On that same note, it is inconceivable that those officers were only assigned to day shifts and no night shifts over the entire duration of those statistics. Meaning, it is very difficult to near impossible to visually determine the race/sex of those stopped at night prior to the traffic stop. Sure an officer can a license plate and look for Hispanic names day or night.

I once had a black female officer tell me, she ‘could get away with a lot more than a white male officer’ so in the back of my mind, I wonder what the race of the officers are? The baseline presumption is a white male officer.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Not exactly, 9:38. The critique is that they disproportionately stopped minorities but search results didn't justify their choices. From the story:

"Just under 90 percent of the motorists stopped by Todd Ganey, a Richmond Police Department officer assigned to the team, were Black or Hispanic, according to 2019 records from the Fort Bend Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the task force. Nearly three of every four stops Danny Tondera made last year were of Hispanic drivers.

"An analysis of traffic stops made over the past two years by Gillory shows just under 98 percent of the drivers he pulled over were Hispanic. Gillory searched 187 of the vehicles, all but two driven by Hispanics; 94 percent of the time the searches came to nothing."

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