One of the entrenched problems of the drug war is there are so many pots of money and power that can be tapped that too many people have a shot of getting some for themselves.
Senator Jim Webb is greatly admired by those of us in the drug policy reform community for his tireless work trying to institute a blue-ribbon commission “to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the criminal justice system from top to bottom.”
While the commission was recently shot down in the Senate on 10th Amendment concerns(!), Webb has never wavered in his commitment to criminal justice reform.
As he’s noted: “Irregularities and inequities in Americaâ€™s criminal justice system challenge our notions of fundamental fairness.”
A great guy to have in the Senate, right?
The inclusion of those three localities followed a February request by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., to have all 13 Southwest Virginia counties included in the designation.
In a letter addressed to Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske, Webb requested that the review of the remaining counties be expedited to ensure fairness.
â€œIn order to ensure basic fairness in the application of federal resources, I ask that you expedite the inclusion of the remaining 10 Southwest Virginia counties into the Appalachia HIDTA,â€ Webb wrote in the Oct. 31 letter. â€œThe continuation of Appalachia HIDTA into all 13 Southwest Virginia communities will allow the Appalachia HIDTA to assist the local communities unduly burdened by this regional epidemic, in order to effectively locate and eradicate these systemic drug networks.â€
Now what’s the advantage of being designated a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA)? Federal funding.
And how is that funding most commonly used? Creating a multi-agency drug task force.
And from whence do many of the “irregularities and inequities in Americaâ€™s criminal justice system” that “challenge our notions of fundamental fairness” stem? You guessed it. Drug task forces.
Not only do multi-agency drug task forces lead to systemic abuse, they aren’t particularly good use of funds, as indicated in an audit of the program.
While many task forces are effective, they are too often assembled indiscriminately. Some task forces in the five sites reviewed were put together to address circumstances where an absence of coordination among enforcement agencies was clearly identified as an obstacle to effective enforcement. But such task forces appeared to be the exception more than the norm. More often, it seemed, task forces were created on the assumption that having personnel from different agencies work together would necessarily improve enforcement. Given that individual agencies have distinct operational approaches, procedures, organizational cultures, and esprit de corps, this is not always the case.
Moreover, even task forces that are successful at promoting law enforcement coordination may not always represent the best use of HIDTA resources. At least some of the coordination that occurs under the auspices of HIDTA task forces would take place without HIDTA funding and designation. HZDTA did not invent the idea of coordination among law enforcement agencies, nor is HIDTA the exclusive patron of such efforts.
But to Senator Jim Webb, it’s another source of funding for his constituents that is very popular with law enforcement.
Everyone wants a piece.