Texas state senator Juan Hinojosa is no stranger to drug policy reform, having authored bills that restricted the use of undercover police agents in the wake of the Tulia scandal. This year, he has sponsored two bills that have aroused the ire of at least one Texas drug task force, and those cops are fighting back. Hinojosa is sponsoring one bill that would .
But if Garza hoped the traffic stop video would aid his cause, he appears to be mistaken. First, the video demonstrates all too clearly why people like Hinojosa feel the task forces need to be reined in. Hinojosa was stopped because the factory tint on his SUV windows was "too dark" and because he "swerved" when he waved at the officer. Such "pretextual" stops are common operating procedure for highway drug law enforcers, who will then seek permission to search the vehicle.
And they are especially common in the task force's turf. According to an ACLU study of highway interdiction in Texas, the South Texas task force reported vehicle searches in fully one-third of traffic stops, with a whopping 93% of them being "consent searches." In other words, in only 7% of the vehicle searches conducted by the task force did its officers have any reason to conduct a search. By way of comparison, only 12% of San Antonio police searches were consent searches and only 14% of Austin police searches. "That's a sign the task force is fishing for assets, not just enforcing the law," said Henson.
"These drug task forces are out there just interdicting and stopping people illegally without probable cause asking to search their vehicles and pretty much harassing citizens of the state of Texas," Hinojosa told fellow legislators at an April 12 hearing. "And all they are trying to do is see if they can find money that they can seize to fund their operations. To me what they do is illegal, improper, and not good public policy," he said.
"Let me tell you I've been stopped several times by drug task forces that don't come under jurisdiction of the DPS," said Hinojosa. "They don't need probable cause to stop you. They just stop you. They will profile you which is illegal to stop you, ask to search your vehicle without probable cause which is also illegal, and I refuse. But a lot of citizens don't know that and what they do is go through your car, snoop around, see what they can find and let you go if they don't find any money. Those drug task forces have no business operating in our state."
And now, through its attempt to embarrass and retaliate against Hinojosa for going after task force abuses, the South Texas Specialized Crime and Narcotics Task Force is squarely in the limelight and helping to make the case for its own abolition. On Monday, Hinojosa's bills were placed on the Senate intent calendar -- typically a signal that they will pass.