EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- Texas Department of Public Safety state trooper pursuits of suspected smugglers happened at an exponentially greater rate in El Paso in 2023, according to data obtained by ABC-7.
There have been more than 5,000 pursuits involving Texas DPS state troopers since the inception of Governor Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star in March 2021. About 63 percent of the pursuits in El Paso County occurred between January and April of this year.
Texas DPS says that rise can be attributed to the effectiveness of Operation Lone Star, which initially addressed the migrant flow in South Texas before resources were added in El Paso late 2022.
"We have now pushed that migrant flow into New Mexico," said DPS Regional Director Trooper Jose Sanchez.
ABC-7 reported on several pursuits that began near the Texas-New Mexico state line before spilling into west El Paso.
The Texas DPS pursuit policy leaves the decision-making to the pursuing trooper. ABC-7 obtained through an open records request the policy, which states in part: "The decision of when to abandon pursuit can only be made by the officer involved." It goes on to say that the pursuit should be terminated "...when it becomes evident that continued pursuit will bring about unwarranted danger to the public or to the officer."
In recent months, several pursuits ended in crashes involving property damage, injuries and even one death after a suspected smuggler jumped from an I-10 overpass.
"If we were to lay off pursuits completely, the message would be it's okay to come across and drive into our state, into our country, reap havoc, cause chaos," said Trooper Sanchez. "Because here's the thing, if they're [evading] from us, what respect do they have for the law? What respect do they have for our state, for our country and much less for our citizens?"
The El Paso Police Department's vehicle pursuit policy also states the decision to initiate a pursuit "rests with the individual officer."
The updated Customs and Border Protection vehicular pursuit policy contains similar language. The letter from the acting commissioner says the updated policy does not prohibit vehicular pursuits, but the policy "restricts pursuits in certain circumstances that are considered especially dangerous and also prohibits specific emergency driving procedures that have proven unsafe and ineffective."
The severity of the crime and the "government's interest" must also be considered, narrowing the circumstances in which pursuits involving Border Patrol could happen.
An El Paso Mother's Close Call
An El Paso mother of three shared her harrowing experience on I-10 while taking her kids to school in March. She says she was about to change lanes to get off an exit when an instinct told her otherwise.
A DPS state trooper vehicle sped past her at a speed she estimates to be in excess of 100 miles per hour.
"It was like a vacuum," the mother, who wished not to be identified, told ABC-7. "My initial feeling was I was scared. I was rattled. I was shaking."
She says every worst thought went through her head.
"I thought this is really irresponsible because someone can really, really get hurt."
She acknowledges she did not see who the trooper was going after and that they did not have any lights or sirens on. Despite that, she's calling into question the need for the pursuits of suspected smugglers.
"I don't feel safe driving on the freeway. It's so irresponsible to put the citizens at risk for such a catastrophic accident that could really hurt an entire family."
ABC-7 reached out to Governor Greg Abbott's office for an interview on the pursuit policy, but his office did not respond to our request.