New ACLU Report Blasts Texas' Scandal-Plagued Narcotics Task Forces, Calls for End to Bloated $200 Million Program

Affiliate: ACLU of Texas
December 17, 2002 12:00 am

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AUSTIN, TX — The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas today issued a report calling for an end to the state’s $200 million regional narcotics task force system, citing pervasive racial profiling and 24 major drug scandals since 1998.

“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 ACLU of Texas. “When it comes to narcotics law enforcement in Texas, the cure is worse than the disease.”

The report, titled Too Far Off Task, cites 24 recent major Texas narcotics scandals — 15 involving regional task forces — in which undercover drug officers were found to have engaged in stealing, dealing or transporting drugs, lying under oath, falsifying government documents and even framing innocent people. The report also points to evidence of large-scale racial profiling by task force members and cites a pattern of arresting the lowest-level drug offenders using tactics that encourage corruption and false accusations.

In one notorious case that gained national attention, nearly 10 percent of the African American residents of small-town Tulia were arrested and indicted on bogus drug charges based solely on the word of a corrupt police officer. The case led to the 2001 passage of the “Tulia Law,” which requires corroboration for confidential informants (but not police officers) in undercover drug stings.

More recently, the ACLU last month filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 28 African American residents of Hearne, who were indicted in November 2000 on drug charges after being rounded up in a series of unlawful paramilitary drug “sweeps.” According to the ACLU lawsuit, the arrests — which took place prior to the passage of the Tulia corroboration law — were based on nothing more than the word of an informant who had no history of reliability and who was himself facing serious criminal charges.

The Tulia and Hearne cases are not an aberration, according to Graham Boyd, Director of the 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 percent of Texas’ population but constitute 70 percent of those admitted 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. “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 ACLU report also dispels the myth that the task forces are “free” to taxpayers because their local portion of required matching funds are supplied by assets seized in drug raids. An analysis of 2002 grant applications from all 45 task forces revealed that only $7 million of a total $17.3 million in matching local funds was supplied by asset seizures — and that income source is on the decline, the ACLU noted.

By abolishing the task forces, the report estimates, Texas could save $199 million in state and local funds in the next two-year budget cycle. Given the $7 to $12 billion budget shortfall Texas legislators are predicting, the additional funds could be put to good use.

“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” was written by Scott Henson of the ACLU of Texas. The report is available online in PDF format at

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