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Smoke From DPD

Interim Chief Randy Hampton hopes to fix the police department by shuffling deck chairs. What's needed is for all the deck chairs and the people in them to be shoved into the ocean.

Nobody at the top gets fake drugs yet. You can tell by the way they keep trying to shuffle the deck chairs. Take the attempts by the interim Dallas police chief to reorganize his command staff: He doesn't get that the only "reorganization" good enough for the city's fake-drugs scandal will be a couple of dozen bloody heads on pikes out in front of the cop shop.

The all-new Decapitated Division.

"Hey, whatever happened to old Deputy Chief So-and-So?"

"Oh, they switched him over to Decapitated."

Reorganize? Get real. Somebody connected with the Dallas Police Department planted huge amounts of fake cocaine on innocent victims and ruined dozens of lives--people sent to prison, people deported, people who lost their businesses, people divorced by their spouses. This was a total devastation of the lives of innocent people by some bastard or group of bastards who were either wearing the badge or working with people who wore the badge.

What's called for is not a staff reorganization.

Two members of the top police command staff have gone to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file complaints against interim Chief Randy Hampton, apparently having to do with new job assignments they either didn't get, did get, were afraid they might get or hoped to get.

Meanwhile a mushroom cloud of paranoia boils out of police headquarters every day over Hampton's actions. Apparently he has decided, even though he is only an interim chief and a candidate for the full-time post, to move a bunch of top people around. I have heard every possible wacky permutation of what it all means. The one that makes the most sense is what I hear from sound heads outside the department: that Hampton just wants to look tough and bright so he'll get the full-time job.

Ain't workin'!

Every time Hampton breathes on somebody, that person runs for a lawyer. Maybe for good reason. Why doesn't Hampton get that the wheel of justice is grinding near and now is not the time for tiddlywinks?

The most intense paranoia is over who will wind up in charge of narcotics--I guess because nobody wants a dead dog. There is a general awareness in the department that the two ongoing independent investigations of fake drugs will turn up a fine mess there--a complete absence of control over money, evidence, informants and cops. And this history goes way back. We all forget that nobody ever figured out who stole $50,000 in buy money from the narcotics division in 1996 under former Police Chief Ben Click.

By the way, I finally got page four. Several weeks ago I wrote about all the trouble I was having getting the police department to cough up a management audit of the Dallas narcotics division carried out recently by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. When I finally got the audit from City Attorney Madeleine Johnson, it was mysteriously missing page four.

So Johnson got page four for me last week. (Johnson, by the way, seems to be taking a very tough straight-up line on fake drugs and must not intend to cover up anything for anybody.) As I had expected, page four dealt with the need for massive reform of the way the narcotics division accounts for money, evidence, everything.

In fact, there's a decent argument that narcotics was already drifting out of control before former Chief Terrell Bolton took office, probably at least since 1993 when former Chief William Rathburn left Dallas to head up security for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. I talked about it recently with a senior police official not in Dallas but familiar with the Rathburn regime. I'm not sure why he knows so much, but he does. He was willing to speak only if I didn't identify him, because he didn't want his name mixed up with fake drugs.

His argument was that fake drugs could have started under anybody, but it would have been nipped in the bud immediately by anybody who had any idea how the narcotics division in Dallas was supposed to work.

Under Rathburn in the early 1990s, the Dallas narcotics division was reorganized to reflect new thinking in international police circles. The game theory here was that knocking down major dealers can actually make drug-related crime worse, if you don't do anything about users. By concentrating on big dealers, you drive down supply without changing demand. So what happens? Prices go up. Druggies have to steal more stuff. The trick is to drive down demand in tandem with supply by going after the druggies, too.

The "street-level" squads involved in the fake-drugs scandal were put in place by Rathburn to go after users and very small dealers. They were the demand side of the equation.

 

If anybody in charge of narcotics...if anybody in charge of the police department...if anybody in charge at City Hall had even known what the street squads were for, fake drugs would never have happened. My source said: "The focus of the street narcotics units was and should be criminal drug users and small-dealers.

"So red flags should have gone up all over the place when they were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to informants in the street narcotics unit."

If street narcotics even had to pay snitches, they should have been able to do it in hot dogs. And in any event, they were never the ones who were supposed to be making major drug hauls.

"That's just not what they should have been doing," he said.

He said the people in charge "should not have allowed that to happen. They did, and it was wrong. It defeats the whole purpose of the street narcotics unit. If they found this opportunity to make some big drug deals, that should have been passed on to the regular narcotics units, not handled by the street narcotics units."

The top commanders, he said, "should have been reassigned immediately, because they allowed that to happen. It was a management failure and a significant one, with major consequences. Bolton should have done something immediately. He did not."

Instead, Bolton left management of narcotics in place. "That's just not the way to run an organization," my source said. "You have to have some management accountability when something happens of this magnitude and this nature, and particularly when it's clear that there was some breakdown."

Some time ago I spoke on the phone with a person who convinced me she had been a member of the jury in the federal criminal trial of Senior Corporal Mark DeLaPaz, the only narcotics officer tried for offenses related to fake drugs. DeLaPaz was acquitted of charges that he had lied on official documents related to fake drugs.

I believe what she had to say was an intriguing window on how juries think in Dallas and why it's so difficult to hold police officers accountable. She told me that during deliberations jurors asked themselves, "Would he have put these people in jail if he had not thought they were drug dealers?

"And so they were, 'Well, no, he wouldn't have.' He was really doing what he thought was the right thing, and so if he fabricated some stuff or exaggerated what he said he saw, that was where their reservation came in."

Think about that. The culture we're working with says cops don't have to obey the law. They are the law. If they think somebody's guilty, that's enough.

She also told me that jurors felt DeLaPaz was being hung out to dry by his bosses. It was their intuition that none of fake drugs could have happened without direction and complicity from above. They balked at stringing up the guy at the bottom of the totem pole if it meant the people at the top would get away free.

That part of it I have to respect. In fact, all of what she told me points to how crucial it is to maintain a solid audit trail of accountability up and down the line in law enforcement. Otherwise, all kinds of eggs will be broken, and no one will ever be able to put them back together again.

Why didn't the people in charge of narcotics notice that the street squads were dealing in amounts of money and drugs that should have been handled only by regular narcotics? When the evidence began to come out of what had happened, why didn't the chief of police hold anyone accountable?

Why did it take the city manager so long to hold the chief accountable? What is the city manager's accountability for hiring that chief? Who's accountable for hiring the city manager?

I can tell you that one. Nobody. Under Dallas' weak-weak-weak system of governance (weak mayor, weak council, weak city manager), the buck stops nowhere. That's what caused fake drugs. That's what has to be fixed.

My source on the street squads said one other thing. The reason the interim chief shouldn't bother rearranging deck chairs? Whoever is the new chief must assume that no system in the department is reliable. If the department can't hire people reliably, can't count the money, can't tell cocaine from billiard chalk, why would a new chief think it can do anything else right?

My own plan for meaningful shuffling of deck chairs? On the count of three, the assembled waiters, sailors and members of the engine crew will shove all deck chairs and their occupants off the edge and into the briny deep.

 

Then lemonade on the poop deck.


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