Thanks to the opioid epidemic, you can barely look at the news these days without hearing about another “drug task force” being put into place or making a bust — but there’s troubling evidence that those task forces are not playing by the rules that are integral to the legal system.

Investigative reports into the federally funded drug task forces in Missouri reveal a startling lack of accountability and what many are calling “cowboy tactics” that have no place in law enforcement.

These multi-jurisdictional groups typically have about a dozen officers each and fictional-sounding code names, like Nitro or Comet — and they tend to operate like they’re in a made-for-television movie or show, running a virtually secret enterprise. According to the investigations, these groups have:

  • Used federal money to buy expensive equipment that gets used for nothing more serious than marijuana busts — while ignoring more serious drugs
  • Withheld information or even outright refused to comply with requests for public information under the Sunshine Act, claiming they aren’t subject to it or qualify for an exception
  • Used abusive tactics and excessive force (including kicking and tasing a suspect who was already subdued) and applying civil forfeiture laws too broadly
  • Refused to give testimony in court, denied the task forces even exist and refused to keep minutes of their meetings (in violation of the law)

How do these groups justify the use of big guns, helicopters, infra-red cameras, cryptology programs and cellphone tower interceptors on small marijuana busts? One officer basically claimed they were following the will of the people, saying, “I try to have a good handle on what my community’s perception is of drugs … and then I try to tailor our law enforcement around those feelings of the community.”

Residents in the state need to be aware that the authorities are often anxious to justify the federal money these drug task forces spend. Any arrest for drug crimes needs to be taken seriously — and you should act quickly to protect your legal rights.