The Dallas Police Department was accused Wednesday of violating privacy rights in a plan to attack drug dealers through expanded use of confidential bank and financial records.
Two City Council members made the claim as Chief David Brown sought approval for wider access to the records through participation with the U.S. Treasury Department in the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
“This is a tool that will help us take down major drug organizations in our city to make our neighborhoods safer,” Brown said. “It’s important information.”
Councilman Lee Kleinman waved a copy of the U.S. Constitution as he said the plan is an improper intrusion into personal financial information and rights to privacy.
“I’m not in favor of having law enforcement making searches into people’s personal financial records,” Kleinman said.
Councilman Phillip Kingston agreed with Kleinman, telling the police chief it is an absolute obligation to uphold the interest of citizens to be secure in their property.
“I appreciate your advocacy for why you need this, but it’s irrelevant. It’s utterly irrelevant. I don’t care if you could take down every drug dealer in this city. If you violate their rights to do so, it’s illegal,” Kingston said.
Brown said there is a long history of using financial records against criminals. He said notorious Chicago mob boss, Al Capone, finally went to prison for income tax evasion instead of the other crimes for which he was suspected and following the money trail has also helped bring down big drug cartels.
Now, Brown wants to use the same approach to break Dallas drug organizations.
“We are expanding the use of this information to different types to cases that don’t currently come under this type of scrutiny,” Brown said.
After assurances from Brown and city lawyers that they will act within the law, a dozen other members present at the council meeting voted in favor of the chief’s plan.
“I think we challenge you to find those tools to fight crime efficiently and we ought to applaud you for doing that,” said Council Member Jennifer Staubach Gates.
Brown said he hopes the financial information may also help Dallas gain a greater share of money forfeited from drug organizations.
“I’m not on the side of the drug dealers. I want to do everything we can do immediately to eradicate the drugs,” Councilman Dwaine Caraway said.
Councilman Jerry Allen is a banker. He said banks operate under strict rules about what information can be supplied to authorities and accusations about privacy violations cloud the truth.
“The law is the law,” Allen said. “You can only access what you can access. You have to give notice.”
Council member, Vonceil Hill, is an attorney and former municipal court judge. She said federal law, passed by the U.S. Congress with oversight from courts, clearly permits the approach Dallas Police wish to take against drug dealers.
“If you can disrupt their financial activity, you can take them down. That is what I want to have happen,” Hill said