Pubdate: Mon, 30 Aug 2004
Source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (TX)
Copyright: 2004 The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal


IT IS UNFORTUNATE that Lubbock police no longer will be participating
with neighboring communities as part of the South Plains Regional
Narcotics Task Force. We realize Lubbock officers bring to the table
certain skills that may not exist in some very small South Plains
counties. Nevertheless, Lubbock citizens' safety needs have to take

Topping the list of Lubbock's concerns was the tremendous level of
liability risk for any and all of the cities involved.

As the department responsible for the $655,000 grant that funded the
task force, the Lubbock force also was liable for the actions of
participating officers in the 18 counties that comprise the task
force, according to a police department statement.

One need only recall Amarillo's recent experience with the Tulia drug
defendant cases to recognize the tremendous financial liability
potential that Lubbock had to take into consideration in making its
decision to withdraw. The resulting civil suit and legal settlement
from the now-discredited Tulia drug sting cost Amarillo about $5 million.

In that respect, the decision to withdraw from the regional task force
was a difficult one, but it also was the right one.

Our hats are off to State Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, for organizing
a meeting of all affected parties in an attempt to find a viable
solution. Toward that goal, Rep. Jones, who chaired last week's
meeting, formed an ad hoc seven-member committee consisting of
Department of Public Safety representatives, several sheriffs and
their legal counsel - all of whom continue to stress liability concerns.

That being the case, perhaps the time has come to eliminate the
apparent widespread redundancy in drug enforcement investigations
across the state. Consolidation could be accomplished by the Texas
Legislature's dissolving the various individual task forces and
shifting responsibility statewide to the DPS.

In today's litigious climate, it seems to us that the DPS, an agency
protected by law with immunity from liability issues, is the logical
choice to coordinate drug enforcement efforts, including dispensing of
designated grant funds to various local authorities in instances where
DPS investigators needed their assistance.

Lubbock has a drug problem, as does any community its size, and its
crime rate is not going down. Consolidating law enforcement resources
conceivably could strengthen the ability of authorities to thwart the
manufacture, sale and distribution of illegal drugs not only in
Lubbock but statewide.

We believe it is a potential solution that merits state lawmakers'
serious consideration.
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