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Dateline Houston

Blood Draw

When Mike Anderson won the race for Harris County District Attorney, the Houston Police Officers’ Union was delighted. Anderson promised to bring back old-school law enforcement with none of the namby-pamby resource conservation or legal hand wringing that had earned the incumbent, Pat Lykos, so much disdain. (Read here about how Anderson resumed prosecuting “trace” drug cases.)

But now that Anderson has applied his take-all-prisoners approach to drunk driving, the police union is upset. Houston, like many cities, regularly designates weekends and holidays “no-refusal” periods during which anyone suspected of drunk driving who won’t take a breath test is forced to give a blood sample. (Why drivers aren’t just forced to give a breath sample is a question for another blog.) In April, DA Anderson made the no-refusal period permanent and round-the-clock for all of Houston. And thanks to the pesky U.S. Supreme Court, which recently ruled that cops need a warrant to search your bloodstream, this takes resources.

None of the legal bodies debating this change seems to object to it as a potential erosion of civil liberties. To them, it’s all a matter of money and time, and both sides have engaged in less-than-airtight reasoning to justify their positions.

The Houston Police Officers’ Union says 24/7 no-refusals waste time because HPD officers don’t know how to handle the process efficiently. “They’re not going to be as savvy on how to do these warrants,” HPOU president Ray Hunt told the Houston Chronicle, “so it’s going to take them six to eight hours, and that means the officer is off the street for that entire time. It’s a major issue.” Notably, Hunt doesn’t say the process takes six to eight hours but that lack of officer savvy would make it take that long. But that’s weird for two reasons. One, HPD has done no-refusal weekends regularly for years, so many patrol officers are likely familiar with the process. Two, even if they aren’t, why couldn’t they be trained?

Prosecutors say the 24/7 no-refusal policy will actually save officer time because drunk driving cases involving a blood sample are more likely to end in a plea deal. That means sparing officers hours in court. Todd Keagle, chief of the DA’s vehicular crimes section, told the Chronicle, “If two officers are (in the courthouse) for six hours, for two days, that’s 24 hours of overtime.” Yes, and if three officers are in court for six hours for three days, that’s 54 hours of overtime. But most HPD patrol officers ride alone, so unless a back-up officer was also asked to testify, it seems likely that in many cases only one officer would be stuck in court. And while Keagle says judges often ask officers to stay for an entire trial, rather than just the part where they testify, that’s not standard, so it’s unclear how many hours officers are actually spending at trials that would have been avoided if the prosecution had a blood sample.

Defense lawyers say the policy change wastes resources because it would only apply to misdemeanors. In felony DWI cases, such as when someone has been seriously hurt or killed by a suspected drunk driver, blood draws are already standard if that driver refuses a breath test.

But in a letter to Byron Schirmbeck of Texas Campaign for Liberty, the DA’s office says the change won’t require any new resources at all. But even if it did, writes Assistant General Counsel Scott Durfee, “…money spent ensuring that sufficient evidence is gathered from intoxicated drivers to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent is money well-spent.”

If any new money were being spent.

Which it’s not.

Unlike the rest of the voices in this conversation, Schirmbeck, whose group leans libertarian, also questions the policy’s cost to civil liberties. In his letter to the DA’s office, Schirmbeck asked what the county planned to do with its new influx of civilian blood. Durfee admitted that he “raises a difficult question.” “We recently asked the Attorney General for clarification on when such blood samples can be destroyed,” Durfee wrote, “and the Attorney General ruled that Texas law currently authorizes police agencies to destroy stored blood samples only in limited circumstances.”

The letter concludes, “Finally, we are not aware of any proposals to use these stored blood samples to create a DNA database.”

Texas Department of Public Safety logo

More than a year ago, the Department of Public Safety knew it had a problem. It discovered, purely by accident, that an analyst at its forensics lab in Houston had falsified the results of a drug test. DPS retested 100 of his cases and found two more errors. That was pretty bad. The lab technician, Jonathan Salvador, had worked there since 2006 and handled evidence from almost 5,000 cases from 36 Texas counties.

DPS suspended Salvador and sent a letter alerting prosecutors and district attorneys, and listing which of their cases Salvador had processed. “We believe it prudent to review his entire body of work,” the lab manager wrote in April 2012. “We are sorry for any inconvenience.” 

They couldn’t know how sorry they’d be.

In June the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction of Leroy Coty, who pleaded guilty to possession of more than 400 grams of cocaine in 2010 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Coty’s case was important because the Harris County district attorney had videotapes of Coty with drugs and other evidence that almost certainly could have convicted him without Salvador’s lab results. If any case was going to survive being handled by Salvador’s, it was Coty’s. It didn’t.

The first Salvador-tainted convictions overturned by the appeals court were those in which all the evidence was destroyed during testing. Since an estimated 25 to 50 percent of Salvador’s cases had no surviving evidence, prosecutors knew right away that they’d be freeing a lot of guilty people—and likely had jailed some innocent ones. Most DAs took steps to notify affected defendants and allocated resources to handle the coming waves of habeas corpus writs. Then they set about retesting any leftover evidence.

But in March the appeals court set a damning precedent by ruling that all evidence that had ever passed through Salvador’s custody was unreliable. That meant even if a DA could find enough surviving evidence to retest, the court still wouldn’t consider the new results valid because, for all it knew, Salvador spent his days swapping baggies of cocaine for Fun Dip.

Worse yet, the lab Salvador worked for knew he was doing a bad job for years. A DPS investigative commission found that Salvador was asked to correct mistakes in about a third of all the tests he ran. Periodic job evaluations noted that Salvador struggled with an “overall understanding of chemistry” and that his problems were “very systemic” and his work “right on the edge” of tolerable, though not “catastrophic.”

It could probably be described as catastrophic now. Twenty cases have been overturned so far, voiding almost 160 years of prison sentences. If all of Salvador’s cases are thrown out, which is looking more likely, the lost sentences will total more than 10,000 years.

In Walker County, DA David Weeks has already given up. His office tried to retest evidence from Salvador’s cases, but the “results were haphazard,” Weeks told the Hunstville Item. “In a case where [Salvador] said there was drugs, there wouldn’t be. And when he said there were no drugs, there were drugs.

“It’s clear that all the cases [Salvador] worked on are irreparably damaged,” Weeks said. He’s already making arrangements to expunge the records of every affected defendant. “It blew up in our faces.”

Jail hands

A massive new study by the U.S. Department of Justice ranked more than 350 jails by the rate of sexual abuse reported by their prisoners. Houston’s Harris County Jail came in third.

On average, 4 percent of the nation’s prison inmates and 3.2 percent of its jail inmates are sexually victimized each year, the DOJ reported. At 1200 Baker Street, the largest of the Harris County Jail’s four locations, that rate was more than double: 7.6 percent.

The survey, given to more than 90,000 inmates at 606 prisons, jails, and special confinement facilities, asked prisoners to anonymously report sexual mistreatment suffered at that facility during the last 12 months. It distinguished between types of victimization (rape versus abusive sexual touch), perpetrator (staff versus other inmates) and level of force (physical force versus pressure or coercion.)

At the time of the survey, 1200 Baker Street had just over 4,600 inmates. One in 20 reported being raped by another inmate in the last year.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia has tried aggressively to stem staff sexual misconduct since an internal investigation last year found some jail employees having sex with inmates and one another, and others helping conceal it. Six staff members were fired, two indicted, and two more resigned during the investigation. Garcia promised more video cameras in the jails, additional training, and a new hotline where inmates could report sexual assault.

This is surely to the good, but even before Sheriff Garcia cleaned house, the rate of staff-on-inmate abuse at 1200 Baker Street—1.5 percent—was actually lower than the national average of 1.8 percent. It’s inmate-on-inmate violence that makes Harris County Jail one of just nine jails designated high-rate facilities in the new DOJ report.

Harris County is the only Texas jail on the list, but two Texas prisons (the Stiles Unit in Beaumont and Clements Unit in Amarillo) and one psychiatric facility (Montford Psychiatric in Lubbock) were also classified as high-rate.

The federal survey is mandated by the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, another requirement of which is a study of youth facilities. The Observer‘s Patrick Michels reports here that more than one in ten youth in Texas detention facilities report sexual abuse despite a massive overhaul of that system in 2007.

Researchers analyzed the jail’s population by age, race, sex, education level, type of conviction, length of sentence and even body mass index, along with other factors. Then they weighted their sample results to be representative of the whole facility’s population. Because the survey anonymously collects allegations rather than proven incidents, and because inmates may have reasons to either over- or under-report sexual assault, the researchers say they can’t know their true margin of error. But, they say, the relative severity of sexual victimization at individual facilities is an excellent indicator of where the worst problems exist.

Houston has a problem.

HPD Badges

On Monday, a grand jury declined to indict the Houston police officer who in September shot and killed Brian Claunch, a mentally ill, wheelchair-bound double amputee, for refusing to drop a pen.

HPD Officer Matthew Marin and his partner had responded to a disturbance call at Healing Hands, a small residential group home in central Houston for men with mental illness. Claunch, 45, suffered from schizophrenia and was agitated because he wanted a soda and cigarettes. Police say he yelled threats at the officers and backed Marin’s partner into a corner while waving something shiny, which turned out to be a ballpoint pen. When Claunch wouldn’t drop the shiny object, Marin killed him with one shot.

The case sparked international outrage. Why didn’t Marin use a Taser? HPD has a nationally-recognized crisis intervention team for handling suspects with mental illness—why wasn’t it there? How did Marin’s partner get cornered by a man with only one arm to propel his wheelchair?

Most important, if Claunch’s death isn’t considered an unjustified use of lethal force by HPD officers, what is?

Statistically, nothing.

Between 2007 and 2012, HPD officers killed citizens in 109 shootings and injured them in 112. Houston police also killed animals in 225 shootings and injured them in 109. The department’s Internal Affairs Division investigated every one of the 555 shootings and found them all justified.

Officers fare almost as well in the criminal justice system. No law enforcement officer in Harris County has been charged in a shooting since 2010, when Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton was acquitted for shooting an unarmed man, Robbie Tolan, in his own front yard.

HPD says Internal Affairs is still investigating whether Claunch’s death was justified. That’s odd because IAD investigations are required to wrap within six months and Claunch died almost nine months ago. Investigations that exceed the time limit void their results and can’t be grounds for any discipline, which is how one of the officers fired for beating 15-year-old unarmed burglary suspect Chad Holley got his job back.

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating six questionable use-of-force cases by HPD officers, including Claunch’s death, Chad Holley’s beating, and the shooting death of Rufino Lara, an unarmed 54-year-old immigrant whom the officer said was ignoring commands in English and Spanish and made a threatening motion. Witnesses say the officer only gave commands in English and that Lara had his hands up and was complying when he was shot.

Drawing Blood

The pesky U.S. Supreme Court has once again disappointed the Texas legal system.

In 2009, when the Texas Legislature passed a bill requiring police officers to take blood samples from some suspected drunk drivers even without warrants, prosecutors were ecstatic. Blood tests showing illegal blood-alcohol levels in DWI cases can be as powerful as matching DNA samples in sexual assault cases. But before 2009, an officer in Texas could take a warrantless blood sample only if the suspected drunk driver had just seriously injured or killed someone. Otherwise, the driver could refuse a Breathalyzer test and sit around metabolizing alcohol while the officer worked to get a warrant. To cops and prosecutors, that’s destruction of valuable evidence.

Under the 2009 law, a police officer was required to get a blood sample if a suspected drunk driver refused a breath test and either had a child in the car, had two previous DWI convictions, had a prior conviction for intoxication manslaughter or intoxication assault, or had been in an accident in which anyone but the suspected drunk driver was hurt. Having guaranteed blood samples in the most serious cases didn’t just mean more successful prosecutions; it meant fewer DWI cases going to trial. As Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, put it, “If it bleeds, it pleads.”

Predictably, some naysayers thought that letting officers decide without judicial oversight whether to forcibly take blood samples from people in custody was creepy and weird—if not unconstitutional. If the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure applies to your house, shouldn’t it also apply to your veins?

Clay Abbott, the Texas District and County Attorneys Association’s DWI Resource Prosecutor in Austin, had some pretty smug words for those people. In the September-October 2009 issue of the group’s magazine, The Prosecutor, Abbott wrote, “The initial media coverage of this new law was full of ‘concerned’ criminal defense lawyers and civil rights experts ‘wondering about its constitutionality.’ Real lawyers need not worry: The U.S. Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals have both found that DWI cases present very clear exigent circumstances allowing warrantless draws.”

Alas, now even real lawyers need worry. In April, the Supreme Court turned out to be packed with those experts “wondering about” the law’s “constitutionality.” In an 8-1 ruling in Missouri v. McNeely, the Court determined that the mere fact that alcohol dissipates over time does not, by itself, create an exigent (urgent) circumstance overriding the whole Fourth Amendment thing.

But the justices also stopped short of requiring warrants for all blood draws. Exigent circumstances may occur, they said, but will have to be determined case by case and based on the totality of circumstances.

That left Texas prosecutors a bit freaked out. “The following attachment is my attempt to answer the dozens of questions you’ve sent me by email, phone calls, and texts,” wrote Clay Abbott in a letter to association members titled, “Don’t panic… thoughts on adapting to SCOTUS’s McNeely decision.”

“I am sure many defense counsel will cite McNeely as the end of everything related to blood evidence in DWI cases,” Abbott wrote, “but this is just not so.” The question isn’t whether warrantless draws will continue—Austin and San Antonio stopped the practice immediately, and the prosecutor association advised members to educate their local law-enforcement officers on the new necessity of at least trying to get a warrant—but whether the ruling will endanger prosecutions or convictions from after 2009.

The same day that the court decided Missouri v. McNeely, defense attorneys in San Antonio filed a motion to suppress the blood evidence in their client’s murder trial.

Christopher Hughes Lamar had multiple drugs in his system and a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit when he caused a wreck that killed a woman and her 10-year-old daughter.

But this is still Texas. The motion was denied.

Screen grab of Joshua Gravens' Texas Department of Public Safety record.
Screen grab of Joshua Gravens' Texas Department of Public Safety record.

Human Rights Watch released an extensive report today called “Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US.” It makes a case for exempting minors from the requirements that lump juvenile sex offenders in with adults: registration, by which police are kept notified of the offender’s current address, work, and appearance; notification, by which this data is made available to the public, usually via internet; and residency restrictions, by which offenders are barred from living or working near a place where children congregate.

While all the laws specific to sex offenders wreak special havoc on children, perhaps the harshest are residency restrictions. Intended for adults, residency restrictions often bar children from attending school and in many cases can even break up families if the juvenile offender isn’t allowed to live with his or her siblings. One Texas child interviewed for “Raised on the Registry” had to move with his mother two hours away while his father kept his siblings. Another, age 14, couldn’t live with his mother because he had siblings but couldn’t leave the state to live with his father, and so was put in a juvenile home.

Nicole Pittman, a leading national expert on the effects of sex offender registration on children, investigated more than 500 cases in 20 states for “Raised on the Registry,” including in-person interviews with more than 200 youth sex offenders. One of those was Josh Gravens whom I profiled in last June’s Observer cover story, “Life on the List.”

Gravens had non-penetrative sexual contact with his eight-year-old sister when he was 12. He was adjudicated for sexual assault of a child, spent three years in the Texas Youth Commission, and was sentenced to remain on the list until he turned 31.

Another unintended effect of sex offender laws is that they usually reserve the harshest penalties for those who offend against children. This is makes sense when offenders are adults, but since most children offend with other children, experimental play can result in mandatory lifetime sex offender registration. Another unintended component is that while registries list the age of the victim and the current age and photo of the offender, they do not list the age of the offender at the time of offense. Josh’s age difference from his victim grows every year.

Or did, until Josh was removed from the public registry in November after he showed “Life on the List” to the judge who sentenced him. Josh is now a finalist for a George Soros Justice Fellowship. If granted, the fellowship would let him spend two years educating lawmakers about the effects of including children on public sex offender registries. (“Life on the List” also won a Sigma Delta Chi award this year for public service in magazine journalism.)

But few are as lucky as Josh. “Raised on the Registry” makes a strong case for child registration being considered a violation of human rights, and the results are dire. Besides struggling to graduate from school, find and keep a job, and make in a stable home, many experience harassment and violence, many attempt suicide, and some succeed. Though juvenile sex offenders are among the least likely to reoffend and most responsive to treatment, for many, their childhood crimes are life sentences. For others, they’re death sentences

Pop quiz. Which is worse: A) someone starving to death, or B) littering?

If you answered B), you might want to run for Houston city council.

In March, a Houston police officer ticketed a homeless man for digging through trash in search of food. James Kelly, a 44-year-old Navy veteran, was cited for “disturbing the contents of a garbage can in [the] downtown business district.” The rule cited was a 70-year-old anti-scavenging statute that’s been revised over the decades to expand the types of containers protected from, in the law’s original language, “molesting.”

HPD defended the ticket at first, explaining in a statement, “It is a violation for anyone to remove any contents … placed for collection of garbage, trash or recyclable material. An officer has probable cause to issue such a citation when a person is seen opening a lid and rummaging through contents of a dumpster or trash can.”

But then the story went viral. Media outlets from Fox News to the Huffington Post ran indignant squibs about the ticket. That’s when HPD clarified that Kelly wasn’t cited for trying to feed himself but for littering. “It’s not officers being inhumane,” Houston Police Officers’ Union President Ray Hunt told the Houston Chronicle. “It’s police officers responding to citizens’ complaints about someone removing garbage from their garbage can and leaving it on the ground. It’s creating a mess.”

Hunt said officers wouldn’t ticket someone just for removing food, although, according to the citation itself and the original HPD statement, Kelly was cited not for littering or for removing food but for having given an officer probable cause to believe he might remove food.

Still, police don’t make the laws. The Houston city council makes the laws that govern where and how their 40,000 homeless constituents can, or rather cannot, eat. Last April, over strenuous community objection, the city council passed an ordinance that banned giving food to more than five needy people at once without written permission from the property owner. On public property, that means getting permission from the city.

Mind you, businesses don’t need permission to host a picnic in the park. The statute only applies to “charitable” food service “to benefit those in need.” Originally, the statute included provisions about safe food handling and was presented as protection for the homeless against food poisoning, though the city never offered proof that this was actually a problem. During the month-long debate that followed, all the food-safety elements were stripped away, and though city laws already forbade trespassing and littering, the new ordinance passed, stipulating a $500 fine for violators.

After the fracas over James Kelly’s ticket, Houston mayor Annise Parker asked the city council to repeal the anti-scavenging statute. They balked, so she asked that they repeal part of it, then that they repeal only the part that applied specifically to what Kelly was cited for: picking through a public trash can.

The city eventually dismissed Kelly’s ticket. But at press time, the council was still debating whether to change anything at all about the rule that made his search for food a crime.

Texas lawmakers have filed more than a dozen bills this session that augment or add restrictions to the behavior of registered sex offenders, of whom Texas now has over 72,000. That’s normal—sex offenders don’t have a lot of constituent clout and making them list their status on a driver’s license or social media profile is a low-cost, low-risk way to look tough on crime.

What’s unusual is that the Texas Senate recently passed a bill that would remove employer information from the public registry. Senate Bill 369 is by Houston’s Democratic state senator John Whitmire. Right now, you can look up an offender’s name, race, height, weight, hair color, eye color, shoe size, home address, birth date, and employer name and address. Dropping the last two wouldn’t be for the good of offenders, but of the businesses they work for.

“The employer didn’t commit an offense,” says Marc Levin, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice. “There’s a lot of concern about employers being harassed, vigilantism. Certainly there are a lot of studies showing that families of sex offenders have been subject to harassment and even criminal activity.”

Levin says the House version of the bill, HB 879, also met enthusiastic support in committee.

“The risk that a sex offender may reoffend is actually lower if they’re employed,” Levin says, so along with protecting employers, the reform may increase public safety.

But that kind of pragmatism is a slippery slope toward reality-based policy. No research has ever suggested, let alone proved, that public sex offender registries prevent crime or reduce recidivism. (Check out “Life On the List,” our cover story from last June, for extensive documentation of what the list doesn’t do.) And research does show that the perennially popular laws restricting offenders’ movement, employment, schooling and home hinder successful reintegration.

The registry continues to swell, and all that monitoring takes public money and law enforcement time and attention. So will the TPPF, a free-market think tank that has supported a variety of right-on-crime reforms, ever oppose the registry itself?

“We haven’t gotten into the question of whether we should have one,” Levin says. “But there is a concern that the registry encompasses too many people that aren’t predators to be effective.”

Helena Brown

Is David Dewhurst taking his public relations ideas from Houston’s own Helena Brown?

Last Monday, Brown’s staff sent out an email whose subject line helpfully identified it as a public relations stunt, reading, “PR: Council Member Brown invites Beretta USA to Houston’s District A.”

“Under the misnomer—‘assault weapons’—” the email read, “Maryland legislators are banning handguns used commonly by average citizens and police departments.” (It didn’t specify why Maryland legislators would misname themselves “assault weapons.”)

“Now, proposed state regulations on gun manufacturers has [sic] Beretta considering relocation of its business to another state,” the release read, which is why “Council Member Helena Brown reached out to Beretta General Counsel Jeff Reh and extended a formal invitation to Beretta to consider moving its manufacturing facility to Houston’s District A.”

It’s unclear why Brown would approach the company’s general counsel about the move.

Then Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst decided to jump on the PR bandwagon last Friday. “I am not going to make any bones about it,” Dewhurst wrote. “I want to bring Beretta USA right here to Texas.”

His pitch, though similar to Brown’s by mentioning Texas’s low taxes, sounded a lot like a campaign speech. “In Texas, my job is to create jobs,” Dewhurst wrote. “I work in stride with state leaders who all want to deliver the framework for prosperity that allows for employers and employees to thrive.”

Dewhurst, of course, lost last year’s bruising Republican primary for U.S. Senate to emerging punchline Ted Cruz.

CM Brown inviting Beretta to move to District A is weird because her district in Northwest Houston is—while mixed-use like all of un-zoned Houston—a dense residential area with a largely settled and aging population. Beretta USA currently manufactures in Accokeek, Maryland, a town of 10,000, and employs about 300 people.

But Lt. Gov. Dewhurst inviting Beretta USA to Texas is weird because, well, everybody’s already done it. The Baltimore Sun noted on March 9 that at least seven other states have courted Maryland’s gun manufacturers, including “the governor of Texas, West Virginia’s House speaker and an Illinois congressman.”

Poor Brown and Dewhurst didn’t even make the list.

HPD badge

Observers of Texas’ inarguably messed-up criminal justice system will lately have noticed a change in the state’s tune. Decades of tuff-on-crime policies turned out to be super-expensive to implement, so leaders across the state have started amending those policies and prioritizing whom they incarcerate, a posture shift called “right on crime.” As a result, after 10 years of Texas’ prison population growing by an average almost half a percent annually, that number actually dropped 0.7 percent between 2010 and 2011.

Great, right? Great for taxpayers who aren’t paying to house and feed as many of their felonious brethren (especially nonviolent offenders better off in rehab); great for cops, who can dedicate their limited resources to the most serious crimes; and great for penny-ante dope fiends with a taillight out.

A solid example of “right on crime” is—er, was—Houston’s “trace case” policy. When Republican Pat Lykos was elected Harris County district attorney in 2010, she changed the long-standing policy of prosecuting possession of “trace” amounts of drugs as a felony. A trace amount is defined as less than of 1/100th a gram; in most cases, it refers to the burned residue inside a used crack pipe. (If your ears are pricking up about a policy that would, in practice, usually apply only to one kind of drug user, you’re not alone. More on that in a minute.) Lykos made possession of trace amounts of drugs a misdemeanor.

That single change cut the number of citizens arrested in Harris County for felony drug possession by half. It freed up prison space, took paraphernalia cases off the perennially overbooked Houston Police Department Crime Lab, and saved money—pretty important, as Harris County spends about 70 percent of its total budget on criminal justice.

It also aligned Houston with other large urban counties in Texas and with what’s probably constitutional: One one-hundredth of a gram is too small a sample to analyze twice. Testing the evidence destroys it, so the defense can’t do its own analysis.

That’s why the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and many others were so dismayed to see the new Harris County DA Mike Anderson reinstate felony prosecution for trace cases. Anderson’s promise to do so was one reason he trounced Lykos in the Republican primary last year; Houston police openly hated Lykos’s reform.

“These crackheads are the people who are breaking into motor vehicles to steal your laptop off the front seat, to grab the purse that’s visible, all those things they can sell for $25 to go buy another crack rock,” said Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, to the Houston Chronicle.

But as a new study by Texas Criminal Justice Coalition points out, both property and violent crime in Houston continued their precipitous drops through the two years of Lykos’s policy.

Besides being a resource hog without a demonstrable effect on crime, prosecuting trace cases as felonies perpetuates a historical injustice of unequal enforcement for illegal drugs. Will cops start pulling over Jaguars and looking for straws caked with what might not be 1/100 of a gram of Splenda?

The Houston Police Department’s own annual report on racial profiling says no. Although only 19 percent of Houstonians are black, more than half of all HPD “consent searches” in 2012—searches without probable cause—were of black drivers. And while research consistently shows that whites and blacks use illegal drugs at similar rates, blacks make up almost half of arrestees for felony drug possession in Houston.

Hey–you can’t spell “trace” without “race.”

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