Pubdate: Thu, 01 Sep 2005
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Copyright: 2005 Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Author: Tim Eaton, Scripps Howard Austin Bureau
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


Limit To Unit's Range Is Result, Lawmaker Says

AUSTIN - In months after the passage of a drug task force law, not too much 
has changed, law enforcement officials said.

The law by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Terri Hodge, 
D-Dallas, said proceeds from any forfeited contraband seized by that task 
force must go to the state's general fund unless a task force complies with 
Texas Department of Public Safety policies and procedures.

The law took effect in June, but so far, drug task forces across the state 
have been pretty much operating as they always have, without guidance from 
DPS, according to task forces commanders.

Jaime Garza, commander of the South Texas Specialized Crime and Narcotics 
Task Force, said since the law passed, it has been "business as usual" and 
there has been "nothing as far as big, massive changes."

The South Texas Specialized Crime and Narcotics Task Force had operated in 
several South Texas counties, but Garza said it is now focused on just 
Kleberg County, so the legislation that relates only to multi-county task 
forces would not apply to Garza's unit.

"We're local," he said, adding a promise to follow the rules.

Garza also said he plans on changing the name of the South Texas 
Specialized Crime and Narcotics Task Force to something more focused on 
Kleberg County.

Hinojosa responded by saying that the law had an effect by limiting the 
range of the South Texas task force to Kleberg County and by providing 
stricter standards for DPS.

DPS officials working on the task force issue could not be reached.

According to testimony during the legislative process, the law was intended 
to hobble rogue task forces. A House report had questioned the 
effectiveness task forces and some agents' methods. The report specifically 
mentioned allegations of racially motivated arrests in Tulia by a North 
Texas task force.

Following the report, Hinojosa filed a bill to eliminate 
multi-jurisdictional task forces. Later, the bill was scaled back, and its 
language was included in Hodge's bill, which became law.

During the process, Hinojosa said an officer with the South Texas 
Specialized Crime and Narcotics Task Force unjustly pulled him over for 
overly tinted windows.

Hinojosa said he was profiled, which task force officials denied. Hinojosa 
has said his bill was not in retaliation for anything, but the timing 
seemed questionable to the leaders of the South Texas task force.

On Wednesday, Hinojosa said, "We cannot allow law enforcement officers to 
be out on the highway just stopping anybody without probable cause, pretty 
much in effect committing highway robbery by just looking for money and 
cash from people who have no drugs, who haven't broken the law, who are 
just using our transportation system. And this type of harassment of 
law-abiding citizens is unacceptable in our democracy."

Leaders at the state ACLU office, who supported the bill as it made its way 
into law, could not be reached.
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