Harris County drug policy meant to address lab backlog ‘ties our hands,’ police union president says
The rules around arresting people for drug possession are changing in Harris County. Starting Friday, April 21, anyone caught with less than 4 grams won’t face charges until a lab confirms they were carrying a controlled substance.
District Attorney Kim Ogg said the delay would lead to better case outcomes, but the president of The Houston Police Officers’ Union, Douglas Griffith, argues that the public will be on the losing end of this policy.
“We’re kind of caught up in a political storm,” Griffith said.
That’s how he described the frustrating circumstances that led to the new directive on drugs. He said the courts have thrown out possession cases because the city-run forensic lab takes too long to return test results.
“We’re out there doing everything we can to combat crime,” Griffith said. “Yet, it falls apart either in the court system, or in evidence, or somewhere else.”
That dilemma is leading to new rules that will delay possession charges for anyone caught with less than 4 grams of a controlled substance until there’s lab confirmation unless they’re also accused of a violent crime.
“What it will do is shorten the time between the case filing and the disposition of the case, meaning people will not languish in jail as long. Cases will not crowd up dockets as long, and we will continue to prioritize serious, violent crimes over those cases,” Ogg said.
Four grams is roughly equivalent to 1 teaspoon.
“Usually, that’s your users and below. It’s not going to be your drug dealer, for the most part, but if they know it’s going to be less than 4 grams, what do you think they’re going to do? They’re going to adjust,” Griffith said.
Griffith also said law enforcement agencies, already strapped, will likely need to create specialized units to follow up on filing charges months down the road instead of when communities may want offenders held accountable sooner.
“This is just going to tie our hands further and make it more difficult to deal with these citizen complaints,” he said.
The DA’s office plans to make an official announcement detailing this drug policy change next week.