Heroin Arrests in Dallas and North Texas: Billboards, Big Brother, and Civil Rights in Heroin Cases
In George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, Oceania was ruled by a character called “Big Brother,” who oversaw the ruling government that held total control over the citizens “for its own sake.” (If you read this back in high school, this is where you probably learned about the “totalitarian” form of government.)
Orwell wrote of every person in this fictional world being watched by the government all the time, 24/7/365. They were always on camera and just in case they might forget this surveillance for a minute, there were lots of posters, notices, etc., are around with the catch phrase “Big Brother is Watching You.” Of course, Big Brother explained this surveillance to the people as something he was doing for their benefit and the benefit of Oceania as a whole. Sure he was, right? (Back in high school, here came the phrase “benevolent dictator.”)
It’s a good book. You should read (re-read) it.
Dallas Fort Worth DEA Task Force Set Up to Fight Heroin Crime
Now let’s go from that book published in 1949 to November 2013 when the Dallas division of the federal government’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued its press release announcing the creation of a Dallas / Fort Worth Heroin Task Force made up of federal, state, and local law enforcement dedicated to “keeping our communities safe” from “…a significant increase in the abuse of heroin.”
From that news release:
Those addicted to prescription pain medicine often switch to heroin which produces the same effects and is often more readily available and cheaper to obtain.
To combat this issue, the DEA Dallas Office, and the Texoma High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Office, needs your help. A Dallas/Fort Worth Heroin Task Force has been established. This Task Force consists of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area that are committed to keeping our communities safe.
In order to effectively focus resources, the Task Force has set up a website and telephone hotline for citizens to anonymously report information regarding heroin distributors in their communities and neighborhoods. Detailed information such as name(s), telephone number(s), address, and vehicle information can be submitted to www.texomahidta.org or by calling 972-929-7809.
What’s the Texoma High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area?
Back in 1988, Congress passed a law that created the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, defining what the federal experts considered to be the major drug trafficking areas of the United States (or “HIDTAs”). Twenty-eight (28) regions were named as HIDTAs, found not only in 46 states but also in the District of Columbia; Puerto Rico; and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The law not only designated these HIDTAs, it offered assistance and support to federal law enforcement as well as state, local, and even tribal law enforcement for the purpose of reducing drug trafficking in the United States. This was to be done by:
- Facilitating cooperation among Federal, State, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to share information and implement coordinated enforcement activities;
- Enhancing law enforcement intelligence sharing among Federal, State, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies;
- Providing reliable law enforcement intelligence to law enforcement agencies to facilitate the design of effective enforcement strategies and operations; and
- Supporting coordinated law enforcement strategies that make the most of available resources to reduce the supply of illegal drugs in designated areas of the United States and in the Nation as a whole.
Each HIDTA is run by its own Executive Board which has the power to decide how best to fight drug trafficking in its own spot. Which leads us to the Texoma HIDTA.
The Texoma HIDTA
Dallas, Fort Worth, and most of North Texas are a part of the Texoma HIDTA region. This HIDTA covers 15 counties in North Texas as well as 6 more counties in Oklahoma. From its own description:
The Texoma HIDTA region’s extensive transportation infrastructure and strategic proximity to Mexico contribute to making the region an attractive area for DTOs to conduct their criminal activities. Drug traffickers exploit the region’s intricate network of highway systems for the northbound flow of illicit drugs from the Southwest Border to U.S. drug markets and the southbound flow of bulk cash and monetary instruments3 to drug source areas primarily in Mexico.
Interstates 20, 30, 35, and 40 are primary corridors that intersect the HIDTA region and link its primary drug markets (Dallas-Fort Worth and Oklahoma City) to the Southwest Border and to major U.S. markets in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast.
Although a significant portion of illicit drug shipments transported to the Texoma HIDTA region are intended for local distribution, many drug shipments are consolidated at stash houses in the area and transshipped to other U.S. markets, including those in virtually every state in the mid-west, east, and southeast U.S.
Asking For People to Snitch Anonymously
It’s not news that the DEA and the Texoma HIDTA have been asking members of the general public to call in tips on people that they suspect may be involved in drug crimes. There has been a toll-free tip line set up just for anonymous snitching for awhile now.
However, the heroin business is expanding so much and the popularity of heroin is growing so fast that the 1-800 tip line doesn’t seem to be enough for the Task Force.
Law enforcement does not see a problem with this: they are hoping that these billboards are going to help them catch more heroin distributors and drug dealers selling heroin in Dallas, Fort Worth, and the North Texas area.
These billboards are asking people to call into the DEA’s Heroin Initiative Task Force heroin hot line anonymously and report what they think might be heroin activity to the Powers that Be. They can email or text, too, if that’s more convenient.
Does Anyone See a Problem With This? Yes, You Bet
From a civil liberties viewpoint, there are lots of people who consider this to be the “Little Snitch” problem that may even be a bigger threat to our civil liberties than the Big Brother overall surveillance threat. Read this article in Urban Times for more on these concerns, “After Big Brother Comes Little Snitch.”
From a criminal defense perspective, asking members of the general public to call law enforcement and anonymously rat on someone as being a suspected drug dealer, drug distributor, or drug supplier, is opening a Pandora’s Box of rights violations.
How trustworthy can an anonymous tip truly be?
It’s easy to imagine unhappy exes, business rivals, and others taking advantage of the Heroin Tip Line to cause all sorts of trouble for someone. Having a finger pointed at you as a “heroin user” when you’re in college, a business professional, etc., can result in permanent harm even if no arrest is made or no charges stick. This is a big deal.
Can an excuse of an “anonymous tip” be used as a way to circumvent the protections against unreasonable search and seizure by over-zealous or unethical prosecutors or police officers?
Yes. Prosecutorial misconduct is a reality. Police officers do bend the law. Having the ability to use an “anonymous tip” to advance heroin investigations into an individual or business lends itself to internal abuse. How tempting, who’s going to know, right?
Criminal defense lawyers in North Texas will be dealing with a lot more heroin charges in 2015. That’s going to happen. The question for today is how much of these defenses are going to involve not just defending against felony charges for drug trafficking, etc., but also fighting back against constitutional civil rights abuse as civil liberties are disrespected.
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