Operation Strong Safety Targets Crime, Takes Back Border
AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) today announced the results of a successful multi-agency law enforcement initiative, dubbed Operation Strong Safety, which temporarily increased the patrol presence in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) area from Sept. 15 – Oct. 4. The initiative was launched to address three public safety issues identified in the region: 1) significant criminal activity; 2) significant number of commercial vehicles on the roadways; and 3) unsafe driving practices.
“Combating criminal activity in the RGV was the primary goal of Operation Strong Safety, as well as taking back the border from the ruthless thugs operating in that area,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “We are thankful to our law enforcement partners for their seamless coordination, which helped us achieve these goals, and their dedication to protecting Texans.”
Mexican cartels have continued their lucrative drug smuggling operations in the RGV unabated as evidenced by the increase in seizures of marijuana by 3.8 percent, methamphetamine by 4.5 percent and heroin by 325 percent between January and August of 2013. The substantial rise in heroin seizures is alarming because of the use of heroin by Texas children in middle and high schools.
Since 2011, apprehensions of aliens from countries other than Mexico (including El Salvador, Guatemala, China and Pakistan) as well as Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) by U.S. Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley have both increased by more than 200 percent. Increased UAC apprehensions are particularly concerning as these children are at high risk of being forced into prostitution by transnational criminal organizations.
Increases in Mexican cartel smuggling activity decreases the safety and security of the Rio Grande Valley, the state and the nation. Resources from around Texas were deployed to the RGV to support Operation Strong Safety by conducting around-the-clock saturation patrols on, above and along the Rio Grande River to detect and interdict a substantial percentage of drug and human smuggling activity before the cartels could move people and contraband into stash houses in RGV communities. These 24/7 saturation patrols were sustained until the cartels were forced to curtail their drug and human smuggling operations in the targeted area. Results of Operation Strong Safety include:
Combating Criminal Activity During the three-week initiative in the Rio Grande Valley, DPS coordinated with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to increase river, air and road patrols to address significant criminal activity, including human smuggling and trafficking, drug smuggling, stash house operations and home invasions. This increased patrol presence resulted in the following activity reported by law enforcement, which compares the three-week operation to the three weeks prior, in Cameron, Hidalgo, Kenedy, Starr and Willacy counties:
49 percent decrease in marijuana seizures
42 percent decrease in cocaine seizures
95 percent decrease in methamphetamine seizures
185 percent increase in U.S. currency seizures
67 percent increase in recovery of stolen vehicles
74 percent decrease in felony pursuits
31 percent decrease in Operation Drawbridge camera detections
Four home invasion suspects arrested
Additionally, according to a survey submitted to 21 landowners representing more than 1.3 million acres in the RGV, the following was reported: 71 percent of landowners, whose property has been used by cartel operatives to smuggle drugs and people, reported significant decreases in smuggling activity during Operation Strong Safety; and 100 percent of landowners supported future similar operations.
Commercial Vehicle Enforcement
During the three-week initiative, DPS increased commercial vehicle enforcement to address commercial vehicle traffic – such as 18-wheelers and dump trucks – in the area, resulting in:
177 unsafe vehicles taken out of service
44 unsafe drivers taken out of service
Additionally, 134 commercial vehicle drivers were arrested as smugglers by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (as part of the Texas Hold ’Em program) during the three weeks of Operation Strong Safety. Those individuals’ commercial driver licenses will be revoked for one year for a first felony conviction; and revoked for life for two or more felony convictions, or for transporting narcotics.
Traffic Regulatory Checkpoints
DPS conducted 12 traffic regulatory checkpoints to increase compliance with driver license, insurance, vehicle safety and registration requirements. Of the 1,705 vehicles DPS stopped, troopers issued 281 citations and 249 warnings for driver license, liability insurance, vehicle registration or inspection violations; and 29 arrests were made for outstanding warrants at the regulatory checkpoints. Additionally, there was a 13 percent increase in driver license transactions at area driver license offices, including new and renewal driver licenses, during the initiative compared to the three weeks prior. (Regulatory checkpoints were never used to ascertain immigration status, so no immigration arrests were made at any checkpoints. Moreover, U.S. Border Patrol was not involved in this aspect of the initiative.)
Area traffic crashes also decreased by 18 percent during the operation as compared to the three weeks prior, while injury crashes decreased by 20 percent and fatality crashes by 25 percent.
DPS will continue to conduct surge operations along the Texas-Mexico border as necessary to specifically combat increases in Mexican cartel drug and human smuggling activity and related criminal activity, such as felony pursuits, stash houses and home invasions.
Key agencies that coordinated with DPS in this law enforcement effort included the Hidalgo County Constables Precincts 3 & 4, Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, Starr County Sheriff’s Office, Mission Police Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Texas National Guard, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
What Others are Saying about Operation Strong Safety:
“On behalf of the Constable's Office Pct. 3, I would like to thank the Department of Public Safety for allowing us the opportunity in assisting with Operation Strong Safety and (traffic) regulatory checkpoints. I am a firm believer that the safety and security of Hidalgo County citizens starts with protecting our borders and roadways from criminal elements. This is to include known and unknown trans-national criminal organizations involved in illicit drugs and human smuggling entering our country … With the high presence of law enforcement during the operation basically shutting down all illegal activity along our borders. As a result, our roadways were safer from high speed pursuits and any major accidents.” –Lazaro “Larry” Gallardo Jr., Hidalgo County Constable Precinct 3
Two troopers participating in the initiative responded to a “be on the lookout” call by Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputies on September 28, who were looking for a vehicle carrying a group of gunmen suspected in a recent home invasion in Mission, Texas. The troopers located and arrested four teens and seized one weapon and property reportedly taken from some of the burglarized homes.
“Added police presence prevents and deters crime. In this case, it solved three home invasions, and the suspects are now being investigated for other similar crimes. ...I welcome the added police presence provided by the DPS task force personnel.” –Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño
(Source: Ortiz, Ildefonso. “Sheriff: Glad for ’added police presence,’ DP’s help catching home invasion suspects.” The Monitor. Web. 30 Sept. 2013.)
Peñitas Police Chief Roel Bermea noted his appreciation for the regulatory checkpoints associated with the temporary initiative, which brought much-needed help to the area. “I appreciate the help DPS was giving us. They were out and about, and we actually got to concentrate on inner-city crime.” –Peñitas Police Chief Roel Bermea
(Source: “Police Departments in Western Hidalgo County Expect Increase in Smuggling Activity.” KRGV.com. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.)