DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The Dallas County team devoted to cracking down on fake paper tags no longer exists.
The funding behind a special Dallas County task force officially ran out at the end of June.
Now law enforcement worries the state’s problem with bogus temporary plates could become permanent.
At one point, the Dallas County Clean Air Task Force boasted four deputies and ten detectives. The state’s Clean Air Program funded similar task forces across Texas.
Counties collected fees from emissions testing, then sent the money to the legislature.
But that money officially ran out last month, sending shock waves across the state.
“They said it’s the Wild West,” said Sgt. Jose Escribano, with the Travis County Constable Precinct 3. “Dallas is the Wild West.”
Sgt. Escribano may work in Travis County, but he said he learned everything he knows about illegal tags from the Dallas County Clean Air Task Force, which provided training to other units.
“It would be nice to find out why. Why is it that you didn’t fund this? Something as worthy as this. Why is it that you chop off Dallas’ legs?” Sgt. Escribano said.
During the last legislative session, lawmakers debated two bills that could have resurrected the program. But ultimately, elected officials did not reach an agreement on how to allocate the money.
Some drivers use fake tags to bypass emissions testing or avoid paying tolls. But crooks can also use paper plates to evade police and mask crimes.
“Your average police officer, I would say 98 percent of them, when they look at a tag, they don’t know what they’re looking at,” Sgt. Escribano said.
Fake temporary tags are extremely easy to make. Escribano said one Texas dealer has printed more than 90,000 paper plates, with some resurfacing as far away as New York.
“If you’re sitting in a igloo in Alaska and you have internet connection, you can probably print a144-hour permit,” Sgt. Escribano said.
The Clean Air program may be over, but the money that funded it still exists. The state is currently holding $143 million that was once intended for the program.
“This is crazy,” said Travis County Precinct 3 Constable Stacy Suits.
Suits runs his own clean air task force, which only exists because Suits used money from his own budget.
Suits said the state should return that $143 million to the counties, which generated the money. He said Travis County paid roughly $5 million into the fund.
Dallas County remitted roughly $21 million to the state between March 2015 and June 2019, according to figures from the Dallas County Tax Assessor.
“We need our money back,” Suits said. “It’s sitting there being used to balance the state government’s budget.”
There are currently no plans to fund a task force solely dedicated to emissions violations, according to Jasmyn Carter, a spokeswoman for the Dallas Co. Sheriff’s Department.
Funding for the unit needs to be approved by the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court.
“The Sheriff’s Department Freeway Management Division will continue enforcing state laws and regulations concerning emissions violations as a whole instead of having a two-man unit dedicated solely to that type of enforcement,” Carter wrote in an email.