Nueces County, Texas (pop. 340,000), sits on the Gulf Coast halfway between Houston and the Mexican border, astride drug trafficking corridors headed from Mexico to the central and eastern US. Its leading newspaper, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported Saturday that drug offenses were the single leading reason people appeared in felony court there over the past decade.
About two-thirds, or 6,790, of all the felony drug crimes were for cocaine offenses, followed by more than a thousand meth cases, and about 600 cases each of heroin and marijuana charges.
The number of felony drug charges over the past decade was greater than the 8,700 property crime felonies charged. The newspaper did not provide numbers on violent felonies charged, but insisted that drug offenses were the leading charge.
"It's not surprising that South Texas has a significant drug traffic issue with its proximity to the border," said Corpus Christi Police Capt. David Cook, who is with the department's Narcotics Vice Investigations. "We get a lot coming through here," he told the Caller-Times.
State District Judge Sandra Watts told the Caller-Times that about half of her daily docket consists of drug-related cases. She said she would rather sentence addicts to places like the Substance Abuse Felony Punishment facility instead of prison so offenders can get treatment and the state can save money. A supervised drug treatment program costs $2.46 a day, compared to $50 a day for prison, she said.
"Very often we see repeat offenders because an addict is an addict," she said."If someone is addicted to drugs we will see them again until we get a handle on the addiction," she said. "And we don't have enough prisons to put everyone in jail for possession of controlled substances."
For the past decade at least, Nueces County has been arresting its citizens at a rate of more than 1,000 a year for offenses in which the most serious charge is a drug charge. Perhaps it might want to offer treatment on demand instead of treatment by court order, or simply decriminalizing drug possession, for a start.
But local law enforcement isn't thinking like that. Captain David Cook of the Narcotics Vice investigations squad had an old-fashioned answer: more cops. He said the department's 22 narcotics officers aren't enough.
"The drugs go north, and the currency comes south," he said. "I see everything that happens here and we try to keep a lid on it but it's difficult. You could give me 50 or 60 narcotics officers and maybe we could keep up."
They could no doubt keep up, or even increase, their drug arrests numbers with triple the narcotics officers, but can the good people of Corpus Christi afford to just pay for more of the same, year after year after year?