By Aaron Malin
Secret, Dangerous, and Unaccountable:
Exploring Patterns of Misconduct in Missouri’s Drug Task Forces
Missouri’s drug task forces are fraught with rampant misconduct and abuse. In 2013, Governor Nixon announced a proposal to increase drug task force funding by three million dollars. The announcement was paired with a video produced by the Governor’s office and a series of photo opportunities with different drug task forces across the state. These drug task forces have basically no oversight and represent many of Missouri’s worst abuses of executive authority. Some of the most egregious cases discussed in this report include:
- The St. Louis Metropolitan Drug Task Force denies its own existence to citizens filing open records requests.
- The MUSTANG Drug Task Force harasses citizens who attempt to obtain basic information about their public finances.
- The NITRO Drug Task Force pretended we had the wrong number when we called their publicly listed number to file an open records request, before admitting to the lie minutes later. NITRO maintains they are not subject to Missouri’s Sunshine Law.
- The COMET Drug Task Force accidentally copied us on an internal email discussing how to best avoid complying with the Sunshine Law. They later attempted to avoid providing records that showed the task force failed to maintain adequate oversight with the claim that the records could be closed under an exception to the Sunshine Law relating to terrorism.
- The Jefferson County Drug Task Force failed to establish an oversight board as required by state law (RSMo 195.509). Their commanding officer responded to open records requests by mocking our request and refusing to comply with the Sunshine law.
- Despite claims that drug task forces help combat the spread of dangerous drugs like methamphetamine and heroin, most of the state’s task forces primarily seize marijuana.
Missouri’s drug task forces regularly work with federal agents to circumvent the Missouri Constitution and pad their own budgets, all at the cost of our public schools. Article IX Section VII of the Missouri Constitution requires seized funds be deposited in a public school revolving fund, but drug task force officers routinely use federal loopholes to keep the money for themselves (and even use it to pay themselves overtime).