As of March 31st, funding for the Deep East Texas Narcotics Trafficking Task Force will go away. The same holds true for similar task forces statewide. A poorly conducted drug investigation in Tulia, Texas three years ago led to a bill that cuts out the funding. Now, agents are concerned about their future, but more so for the communities they protect.
Narcotics agent Joey Hudnall pulls out numerous file drawers filled with videotapes. "Each one of these cases are cases that have been filed here." All are cases that Hudnall has risked his life on. They're cases of which the veteran narcotics agent will never know the outcome.
After 18 years, the Deep East Texas Narcotics Task Force closes. Drug enforcement will be returned to five counties and 11 member agencies. "They're going to have to start enforcing the narcotics like we've been doing. They don't have the manpower, the time, [or] the money to produce what our task force has been producing," said Hudnall, who is taking a personal interest in each investigation.
Reynold Humber is the task force commander, part time. He now sells cars. He knows what the meth dealers who he wants to put behind bars are doing. "They're already bragging, laughing, [and] carrying on about a free ride come March 31st. I'm afraid it's going to get bad," said Humber.
Eighteen agents have years of combined experience and specialized training. They know how to make undercover buys and are certified to dismantle dangerous meth labs.
Kim Graham is one such agent. "If you're not certified, you won't be able to call out a haz mat team out. The county and cities in which the labs are located will have to pick up the expense for the meth lab cleanup, and that's a big concern of mine."
Another worry is how the state will use the federal money once designated for narcotic task forces. Sheriff Thomas Kerss said, "We really don't know because we have not been told." Kerss has testified many times before legislative committees in support of task force funding. Other sheriffs have also sent their support. Kerss is critical how the state handled the matter. "Many legislators didn't understand the full impact of the bill on law enforcement."
Some agents have returned to patrol duty for less pay. Others are seeking big dollars in Iraq. Then, there are those staying to the end, but unsure of the future. Hudnall closes the file drawer on the cases he will have to let go eventually. "I'll be gone, maybe to another agency, maybe somewhere clear across the state. I don't know yet. I don't have any plans at this time. "