NASHVILLE — Tennessee lawmakers are considering tighter regulations for the 24 judicial drug task forces around the state.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports members of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee said after a hearing last week on the issue that legislation was likely to be filed in January.
The panel held a hearing to follow up on allegations raised in the newspaper, other media outlets and the state comptroller's office about problems with some of the task forces that amount to "policing for profit."
The allegations included agents seizing money as drug proceeds but filing criminal charges and the misspending of taxpayer dollars.
The task forces depend mostly on cash and property seizures as well and fines and forfeitures for funding. Typically, they have little or no state or local funding.
After the hearing, subcommittee members said they found the task forces to be lacking in statuary authority, governance and oversight.
"The perception is that money's just being confiscated away from those people and they have to go to court to get what's rightfully theirs back," said panel member Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.
Among those who appeared before the committee were a district attorney, a drug task force director and officials with the state comptroller's office. They explained the history and governance of the task forces, which were created in 1988.
The panel found weaknesses including that there's no statutory description of the boards of directors that are supposed to oversee drug task forces; that some boards didn't meet and others kept no minutes of meetings; and that there's not statute saying that the district attorney general is chairman of the task force.
After the hearing, subcommittee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said legislation would likely give the task forces more structure.
"I think the current structure is probably workable," he said. "I think it builds a higher level of accountability if it's done by statute."
Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com