Newsbrief: Texas ACLU Report Slams Task Forces, Calls for End to $200 Million Annual Boondoogle 12/20/02

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas issued a report Tuesday exposing 15 major scandals in the state's system of regional drug task forces since 1998 and a pattern of racial profiling. The report calls on Texas to end the $200 million a year, federally assisted task force program.

"After 15 years of operation, it is clear that these task forces are a failed experiment that have filled Texas prisons with nonviolent offenders -- many of them African American -- and tainted Texas law enforcement with scandal," said Will Harrell, executive director of the Texas ACLU. "When it comes to narcotics law enforcement in Texas, the cure is worse than the disease."

The report, "Too Far Off Task," details case after case where task force officers were caught stealing, dealing or transporting drugs; or were engaged in lying under oath, falsifying government documents, and even framing innocent people. The report also found evidence of widespread racial profiling and a pattern of arresting low-level offenders with tactics that encourage corruption and false charges.

That is no accident, according to Graham Boyd, director of the national ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project. To receive federal funding, he said, task forces must have good arrest numbers, and targeting minorities is an easy way for the task forces to pad their statistics. Statewide, African Americans make up just 12% of Texas' population but 70% of those sentenced to state prison on drug offenses.

"The $200 million dream of the task force has been a nightmare for the African American residents of Texas," said Boyd in a press release. "People have lost their jobs, families have been broken up and children have been virtually orphaned as a result of the massive racial profiling and corrupt practices of the task forces."

The report also found that despite the widespread perception that the task forces are "free" for Texas taxpayers, matching fund grant applications last year alone cost more than $10 million. Abolishing the task forces could save the state $199 million in the next two years, the ACLU reported, a salient fact given the state's projected $7 to $12 billion budget shortfall.

"Too Far Off Task: Why, after Tulia, Texas should re-think its Big Government approach to the Drug War, abolish narcotics task forces, and save $200 million this biennium" is available at http://www.aclutx.org/news/NarcoticsTaskForceReport.pdf online.

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