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EDITORIAL
What avenue for battling drugs
is best for Iowa Park?

1/10/08

What began years ago as the ‘North Texas Regional Drug Enforcement Task Force’ involving several counties in the Red River Valley has since whittled down to one county and fewer strategic minds involved in making the process viable as a drug interdiction/rehabilitation tool for the citizens of Wichita County.

The issue of drug enforcement is a slam-dunk ‘concensus of reality’ not only in North Texas but across America.

What few seem to question is the process of achieving that goal. Create an agency and claim it will “fight the growing drug problem in America” and few will raise the Pancho flag on how much it costs, much less how the money will be spent.

Or if a certain program is even viable for their community.

Such as the recent creation of a “Wichita County Area Drug Task Force” for Wichita County, promoted heavily to the Iowa Park City Council by County Judge Woody Gossom, County Sheriff Tom Callahan, and Precinct 3 County Commissioner Gordon Griffith.

Funding for the original North Texas Task Force (13 counties including Wichita, Clay, Montague and Wilbarger), provided on the federal level by the Byrne Grant funding stream and state money, was discontinued in April of 2007. A task force scandal in Tulia, one of the state’s 49 task forces, led to a shift in funding perspective in both Washington D.C. and Austin.

In fact, an Interim Report of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee demanded an end to the regional narcotics task force system :

“Continuing to sanction task force operations as stand-alone law enforcement entities - with widespread authority to operate at will across multiple jurisdictional lines - should not continue. The current approach violates practically every sound principle of police oversight and accountability applicable to narcotics interdiction.”

With federal and state money no longer available, the Iowa Park City Council was approached and agreed to continue funding the program along with the region’s 23 other entities, at a cost of $21,673.70 (the city eventually paid $11,000 for a six-month period).

That task force was disbanded the last day of September, 2007.

Enter Gossom with a plan in November to create the “Wichita County Area Drug Task Force,” which would include the cities of Wichita Falls, Burkburnett, Electra, and Iowa Park.

Under the plan, two officers would be added to the six-member narcotics division of the Wichita Falls Police Department at a cost of $193,555.

Under a new state law, drug task forces involving multiple counties (such as the original task force) would fall under the supervision of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

With Gossom’s plan involving only Wichita County, supervision of the task force would go to the Chief of Police in Wichita Falls.

The cost – including the new officers, equipment (including vehicles) and benefits would be shared by the cities in the county. For Iowa Park, that meant $13,648. For Wichita County, $150,000. For Burkburnett, $23,190. For Electra, $6,717. For Wichita Falls, $0.00.

In other words, Wichita Falls would get two new officers, vehicles and equipment for their department for free. In return, they would enter into an interlocal agreement in which the Wichita Falls Narcotics Division would work drug cases throughout the county, not just in Wichita Falls.

In Wichita Falls, eight narcotics officers would amount to one officer per 13,000 population.

Add all of Wichita County into that mix, and you have one narcotics officer per 15,600 residents, and a whole lot more square miles of coverage.

In addition,while guarantees that hazmat cleanups of clandestine drug labs would be included in the program, it was also noted that the Wichita Falls Police Department would take possession of all seized property and assets at each cleanup location.

The Iowa Park City Council, after reviewing the plan, determined that $13,648 would be better spent on a local level.

And that took a lot of guts.

Since then, Gossom has played hardball with the city of Iowa Park – in particular the Iowa Park City Council – for declining participation in the newly-created task force.

On Tuesday, Channel 6 in Wichita Falls and FM 92.9 reported Gossom, Callahan and Griffith were on the agenda for next Monday night’s Iowa Park City Council meeting to “discuss reconsideration of their change to not participate in the task force.”

A copy of the council’s upcoming agenda delivered to the Leader office Tuesday afternoon, however, had no such mention agenda topic.

What is on the agenda is “Discuss and consider a proposal to establish a drug enforcement officer program within the Iowa Park Police Department.”

Gossom’s public comments following Iowa Park City Council’s actions have led a lot of people to believe that Iowa Parkans aren’t with the “mainstream of thought” regarding drug enforcement.

That we are just being a rove maverick city in the battle of battles, unwilling to commit precious resources towards such a worthy and just cause.

Problem is, the city council just didn’t buy into this one.

And that took guts, because each member, including the city administration and the police department, understood going in they would ultimately be villified if their decision was misinterpreted.

Not just by Gossom, who seems more than at any other time on a crusade to see a specific project through, but also by the citizens of Iowa Park.

It might have made more sense if Gossom had introduced a “county-wide drug enforcement group” whereby other cities in the county including Iowa Park, Burkburnett, Electra, Kamay, and Pleasant Valley (just recently reported as budgeting $2,000 towards the county task force) would not be held at the edge of the political cliff for pre-designated monetery donations, but rather they would be brought together in a centralized information clearinghouse “with the county offering $100k towards two additonal narcotics officers to bolster efforts in a town that is in essense 80% of the county’s population.”

And then allow each city to participate, maybe not just with money, but with enhanced communication across multiple jurisdictions from the various enforcement agencies.

As it stands now, perhaps we should reserve judgement on the council’s actions until after Monday night, when the local police department has an opportunity to submit their own drug enforcement plans.



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