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September 2004
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Are drug task forces on the way out?

I have often railed against the notion of drug task forces on this blog. These entities (often combining local, state and federal officers) are dangerous to peaceful American citizens and have structures that often lead to corruption and lack of local oversight. They use military tactics domestically, causing more damage (and sometimes loss of life) than the drugs they are pursuing.
Now it appears that some in Texas are getting the message

Could the era of Texas’ notorious regional narcotics task forces be ending? Possibly. A number of city officials across the state have reflected on the expensive lesson learned by the City of Amarillo-which earlier this year paid a $5 million settlement to victims of the much-discredited Tulia drug sting-and have pulled out of their local task forces in order to avoid the negative publicity, scandalous headlines, and hefty civil suits that seem to plague these law enforcement entities.

On August 31, the North Central Texas Narcotics Task Force, which covered Denton and Grayson Counties, ceased operations thanks to a July decision by Denton County Sheriff Weldon Lucas to disband the 15-year-old agency. As part of the move, the task force is returning what remains of its $418,738 Byrne grant to Gov. Rick Perry’s office, which administers Byrne funds. August 31 also marked the end of the South Plains Regional Narcotics Task Force, which has conducted narcotics investigations and stings in Lubbock and 17 outlying counties for more than 15 years. In mid-August, the Lubbock Police Department pulled out of South Plains and forfeited its role as administrator of the task force’s $655,650 Byrne grant.

In explaining their decision to withdraw, Lubbock police department officials cited rising insurance premiums and fees, the need for officers to focus on city drug cases, and an excessive expenditure of officers’ time and travel to cover such a vast area. However, increased liability risks were also a major factor. Lubbock lies just south of the area once served by the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force, which employed Tom Coleman-the officer primarily responsible for the botched up Tulia sting. As the Panhandle task force’s grant administrator, Amarillo became financially liable for Coleman’s actions, even though the sheriff’s department of neighboring Swisher County hired him. The Panhandle task force disbanded this spring.

Moving southward, the City of Laredo has pulled out of the Laredo Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force, also forfeiting its role as grant administrator and reducing the task force by half.

Congratulations are due to the ACLU of Texas, who prepared the 2002 report Too Far Off Task, which helped bring to light many of the corrupt tactics of Texas’ Regional Narcotics Task Forces.

The report cites 24 recent major Texas narcotics scandals since 1998, 15 of them at RNTFs and two more at the state oversight office, where undercover drug officers were found to have engaged in activities ranging from stealing, dealing or transporting drugs, lying under oath, falsifying government documents or even setting up innocent people.

By abolishing the RNTFs, Texas could save $199 million in state and local funds in the next two-year budget cycle, the report estimates. Next biennium savings would surge to $372 million — more than $15 million per month.

If your area has a drug task force, or is considering starting one, let me know, and I’ll help you gather material to demonstrate to your community the dangers of these groups.