Pubdate: Sun, 31 Jul 2005
Source: Baytown Sun, The (TX)
Copyright: 2005sBaytown Sun
Author: Ryan Culver


The Harris County Organized Crime and Narcotics Task Force closed its doors 
on Friday, leaving the City of Baytown and Baytown police scrambling to 
secure employment for those who are now out of work.

"Right now they are going to fill the needs we have," Roger Clifford, 
captain at what was the task force office, said Thursday. "It may not be 
what they were originally hired for, but they are going to have to be 
willing to change in order to keep their jobs."

The task force was designed to stop heavy drug trafficking and organized 
crime in the greater Harris County area. The benefit of the task force was 
that many individual organizations could pool their resources and use 
federal funding to fight large-scale crime on a local front.

The task force comprised 11 law enforcement agencies around Harris County 
and had been in operation since the mid 1970s. The Baytown Police 
Department was been the grant-writer, and thus the lead member, from 2003 
to when the force disbanded Friday.

Clifford said out of 12 civilian employees who needed jobs when the task 
force shut down, eight still need jobs, three were reassigned to jobs in 
the city and the other one got a job elsewhere. The city posts open 
positions and they had 13 various jobs as of July 18. The problem is that 
some of the former task force employees are not qualified for these jobs or 
they have entirely different qualifications but no matching job.

"They have been trying really hard to find places for these people," 
Clifford said. "It has been a major dismantling project."

Carol Flynt, spokeswoman for city of Baytown Human Resources, said in an 
e-mailed statement that these employees have known since April that their 
jobs were ending.

"The employees were encouraged to begin a job search either with the City 
of Baytown or with outside agencies," Flynt said. "The employees were 
encouraged to apply for positions which interested them and that they meet 
the job requirements."

On the bright side, the city stated they would continue to pay the former 
task force employees and help them find new jobs until Jan. 31, 2006. At 
the task force, the grant paid for 75 percent of the employees salary and 
the city picked up the rest.

"Once we notified the city that this looked like the direction we would 
have to go, we started working with HR and other city departments to give 
them first shot at any of the job opportunities that come open," Baytown 
Police Chief Byron Jones said. "I am sure some of them are concerned that 
the job has ended, but every one of them knew this was a grant-funded 
agency that could end at any time."

The funding was cut in April when the federal government combined two grant 
programs into the Justice Assistance Grants Program. Millions of dollars 
were cut for these types of programs across the United States.

While Jones can't find positions for all of the former civilian task force 
employees, the police officers, including Clifford, are going to transfer 
to the local offices. Jones said he has a few open slots these officers 
will fill. With the addition of Clifford, Baytown police will have one more 
captain than captain positions, so they are forced to improvise.

"They are looking at options to rearrange positions," Clifford, who is 
expected to become captain of investigation until Jimmy Cook, captain of 
community services, retires in early 2006, said. "I will be reporting to 
the department on Monday."

Another question in the break-up of the task force is how the crime rate 
will change. Jones said he is disappointed to see such a successful project 
end, and Clifford said he is interested in trying to maintain some of the 
cooperative relationships Baytown police established with other member 
departments at the task force.

"I think the task force really served a purpose within the area," Jones 
said. "With the combined the efforts of all the agencies, we could work 
together against drug smuggling activities where individual agencies 
probably didn't have the resources to handle it." He added, "I think it is 
going to be a detriment to our community because you are not going to have 
that group of officers working on those types of cases."

The task force made many memorable busts over the past 30 years. For 
instance in 2004, they put a stop to a major heroin trafficking ring. The 
bust has led to 15 indictments and the shut down of an operation with 
elements in Columbia, Venezuela, Mexico, Houston and New York City. They 
seized 12 kilos of heroin over a three-month period at Houston 
Intercontinental Airport where the heroin arrived in the United States and 
was rerouted to New York for sale.

The bust seized several million dollars worth of heroin and put a 
"significant dent" in the heroin supply of New York City, according to Lt. 
Dan Webb of Texas Department of Public Safety and the former Operations 
Commander at the task force. Webb suspected the ring was responsible for 
importing around 50 kilos of pure heroin into New York City annually.

The task force received criticism in 2004 when a story came out in national 
media about an attempted drug bust at a landscape contractor's residence. 
Blair Davis, the landscape contractor, started to answer a knock at his 
door one morning when it exploded with task force officers responding to a 
tip that he was growing marijuana on his property. The plants in question 
turned out to be Texas Star Hibiscus. Regardless of this incident, law 
enforcement officials said they are going to miss the assistance the task 
force offered.

Clifford had similar feelings on the issue.

"It is kind of a sad day," Clifford said. "This place has done a lot of 
great work over the years, but we will approach it from a different angle." 
He explained, "We have talked with different agencies and we would like to 
come to some kind of cooperative approach."
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