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June 2004
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Drug task forces – a federal jobs program gone fishing on the highways

I have never liked federally funded drug task forces — for a lot of reasons, including dangerous tactics and a lack of accountability.
Now, the ACLU of Texas has given me another reason to dislike drug task forces, in their recent report: Flawed Enforcement: Why drug task force highway interdiction violates rights, wastes tax dollars, and fails to limit the availability of drugs in Texas (pdf report).
The report’s findings include:

  • Task forces perform searches at traffic stops much more
    often than regular police and sheriffs departments.
  • In some task forces, 98% of task force searches at traffic
    stops are discretionary searches where the officer searches the
    car with the driver’s verbal “consent,” but has no other legal
    authority to do so.
  • Texas law allowing arrests for fine-only-traffic offenses
    creates a coercive environment for discretionary so-called
    “consent searches.”
  • Unlike most traffic enforcement, up to 99% of traffic stops
    by some task forces result in no citation. Along with the high
    ratios of discretionary searches, this indicates task force
    officers in highway interdiction programs routinely trump up
    excuses to stop drivers who are committing no crime.
  • Task forces were more likely to search blacks than whites
    in eight of nine task forces that supplied sufficient data to
    calculate search rates by race. Latinos were searched more
    often than whites by seven of nine task forces reporting race
    data on searches.

In reading the Wilson County News report of this study, I am once again impressed by U.S. Representative Ron Paul.

Another suggestion was made to make task forces more self-reliant by paring down or eliminating the federal funding stream that currently keeps them running.

“Instead of directing Byrne funds toward other programs that are eligible, you’re spending it on a task force because agents want new SUVs for their department,” said Jeff Deist, a spokesman for U.S.  Rep.  Ron Paul, R-Clute.

Rewarding task forces with funds generated from drug seizures compounds the problem, Deist said.

“You dangle the carrot of federal dollars in front of them, and it’s just become a great jobs program.  The fundamental problem is that we’ve just accepted this ‘drug war,’ and it’s costing an incredible amount of money.

No kidding.

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