McALLEN — Long disputed Texas Department of Public Safety data that has been politicized and used to paint a grim and some say unrealistic picture of the border could be more influential than ever under the Trump Administration.
Despite reported inaccuracies in DPS calculations and local officials speaking out against them, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly indicated earlier this month the state department’s views are vital to him.
“The only opinion, in my view, that counts right now are from the people that work this border — the Texas public safety, DHS. That’s why I’m here,” Kelly said earlier this month when he visited the Rio Grande Valley for the first time as DHS Secretary.
McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said that if officials like Kelly fail to listen to locals and only consider the opinions of DHS and DPS, then border communities such as the Rio Grande Valley will once again fall victim to politicians and special interest group’s distorted view of the border.
“That has been the problem promulgated over all these years,” Rodriguez said. “These people are trying to make decisions based upon only a select few agencies that have a vested interest.”
Two years ago the Texas Legislature appropriated $800 million to DPS for border security. For this year, Gov. Gregg Abbott and legislative leaders were asking for $1 billion in funding for border security but it was later reduced back to $800 million.
“I’ve asked time and time again how much of that money has gone to local agencies, and it’s a very small amount,” Rodriguez said. “That’s why we can’t afford to take a back seat anymore, for the sake of our community. We need to stand up and we need to be heard and we need to do what’s right.”
Every year FBI statistics show lower violent crime rates, including homicide, rape, aggravated assault and robbery, in cities along the Texas-Mexico border compared to other major metropolitan areas across Texas and the United States.
The latest FBI Uniform Crime Report, which reflects statistics from law enforcement agencies divided by crime, county and cities shows the murder rate in Washington, D.C., is 24.1 (per 100,000 population) compared to 1.4 in McAllen, 1.0 in Brownsville, 2.5 in El Paso and 3.1 in Laredo.
On the other hand, the latest DPS Safety Threat report, which was made public in January, elevates the terrorism threat level from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other foreign terrorist organizations in Texas, and paints an alarming picture of cartel members and spillover violence seeping across the border.
It claims cartels are the greatest organized crime threat to Texas and that all eight of the major Mexican cartels are already operating here.
It also claims cartels have enlisted transnational and statewide gangs to support their drug and human smuggling and human trafficking operations on both sides of the border. It lists Tango Blast, the Latin Kings, the Texas Mexican Mafia and the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS13, as the top four gangs allied with the cartels.
“These powerful and ruthless criminal organizations use military and terrorist tactics to battle each other and the government of Mexico for control over the lucrative U.S. drug and human smuggling markets. They dominate the wholesale trafficking of illegal drugs along the Texas-Mexico border, producing or smuggling most of the illegal drugs to the U.S.,” the report reads.
In 2011, DPS painted a similar picture, marking Hidalgo County as the center of spillover violence in Texas. In a report by The Monitor, Rodriguez and former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño disputed the DPS’s grim view of the county, calling the border safe and secure.
When Rodriguez compared the reports by DPS to his own police records, he said a 2010 kidnapping that was initially reported as having ties to organized crime was later cleared by his investigators. Despite McAllen PD’s assessment of the crime, DPS reported the kidnapping as having cartel ties. Treviño disputed four homicides reported by DPS as spillover violence.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who has sat on the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security for many years, said Wednesday that he doesn’t take the DPS reports seriously and that “they are not a true measure of what is happening on the border.”
“With all due respect to them, and again my brother was DPS for 27 years in narcotics intelligence and they do a good job, but some of those reports, I take with a grain of salt,” Cuellar said.
“I think if you look at a lot of the Republican statewide officials, they’ve used the border as a punching bag,” he added. “You always have to have an evil that you have to slay, a dragon that you have to slay and this border security has become that dragon that they need to slay to bring the light back into our community.”
AT THE WHITE HOUSE
State officials are no longer the only ones taking aim at the border. President Donald Trump ran on the message of an unsecure border and has signed several executive orders that directly affect the border, including the little-reported Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations.
This executive order gives federal agents more leeway and resources to combat criminal organizations and drug cartels. At the end of the order, Trump mandates a report within 120 days from Secretary Kelly, who is likely to include DPS data based on what he said during his visit here.
It also mandates Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and whoever ends up as Director of National Intelligence, to report back to him with the “extent of penetration” of cartels and other related criminal organizations, and provide annual reports describing the progress along with any recommended actions for dismantling them.
“These groups are drivers of crime, corruption, violence and misery. In particular, the trafficking by cartels of controlled substances has triggered resurgence in deadly drug abuse and a corresponding rise in violent crime related to drugs,” reads the order.
“Likewise, the trafficking and smuggling of human beings by transnational criminal groups risks creating a humanitarian crisis. These crimes, along with many others, are enriching and empowering these organizations to the detriment of the American people.”