Sunday, December 4, 2011

News Tribune Investigates Kitsap-Pierce Drug Task Force

Today's News Tribune has an investigative report on WestNET, the West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team, a federally funded drug task force based in Kitsap County, with tendrils reaching into Pierce County. A Dirty Little War, News Tribune, Dec. 4, 2011.

While the task force's mission is to go after drug-trafficking organizations, much of its effort was spent on low-level cases. Critics say that the officers often had a "cowboy" mentality, breaking down doors and bursting into homes wearing paramilitary gear.

The newspaper's review of court records indicates that the task force often inflated its success rate.

At least two people allege that one officer (Roy Alloway, who has since pleaded guilty to federal firearms and tax offenses) pressured them to give evidence that was false, or said that they made statements they did not.

In A story like WestNET's takes considerable work, News Tribune, Dec. 4, 2011, the journalists describe the public records they used, from courts (federal and state) and law enforcement agencies. The Tahoma Narcotics Enforcement Team (TNET), based in Pierce County, presents a different picture. All of its cases went to federal court, while most of WestNET's cases went to federal court. TNET has a much higher success rate (although the journalists did not have a record of cases the prosecutors declined. How WestNET compares with Pierce County task force, News Tribune, Dec. 4, 2011.

If you'd like to read about a drug task force gone horribly wrong, I recommend Nate Blakeslee, Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town, HV8079.N3 B55 2005 at Good Reads. While focusing on one notoriously bad case – with a renegade officer at the center of the action – Blakeslee also discusses the structural factors that make drug task forces susceptible to abuse of power, sloppy police work, and worse. See chapter 11, The Jump Out Boys.

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