Skip to Content

Crime-Free Border Counties Get More Funding To Prepare For Crime

By ALICIA A. CALDWELL, Associated Press Writer

EL PASO, Texas (AP) – Presidio County has never seen the kind of fictional carnage that was filmed there for the movie, “No Country for Old Men.” But if it ever does, Sheriff Danny Dominguez now has the gear to fight it, thanks to millions of dollars in state and federal grants for his virtually crime-free turf and that of other sleepy Texas border counties.

The first batch of the $16.2 million awarded, more than $5 million, was given in 2005 to a loose coalition of sheriffs who split the take evenly, regardless of crime rates. The rest was given out in grants to several counties. And several million dollars more are in the pipeline.

Presidio County, whose sheriff and four deputies cover 3,85 square miles of West Texas and protect about 1,000 people, received $336,875 to fight the one crime, an aggravated assault, that occurred in the county in 2006.

But in the Rio Grande Valley’s urban Hidalgo County, across the river from the sites of several deadly Mexican shootouts, got about the same amount, spread over three years, for its more than 250 deputies to fight 7,160 violent crimes.

“I expressed my displeasure at the time,” Sheriff Lupe Trevino said. “But that’s the way it goes. We used the money the best way we could and you do what you have to.”

The Associated Press obtained a county-by-county breakdown of the state spending on border crime in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to spending records, several departments, including Presidio County, bought night vision goggles, radar units, and radios, along with heavy duty 4×4 trucks and other off-road vehicles. They put some money in their overtime budgets.

Hudspeth County, with a population of about 3,300 and 41 crimes in 2006, spent $22,300 on a Ford Mustang GT outfitted as a police car.

The sheriffs say they need the money to match the equipment and budgets of larger departments in the state. The state says the money will be used to prevent future crimes, and that even trespassing and vandalism in sleepy counties could be signs of Mexican organized crime seeping across the Rio Grande.

But critics say some of that money was misdirected. “This shouldn’t be border socialism,” said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense in Washington. “It has to be based on need.”

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, an El Paso Democrat and longtime opponent of some of the coalition’s security efforts, suggested the money should have a set purpose.

“Let’s first find the issue,” Shapleigh said. “Here on the front line the issue is violent international gangs, so how best to use state resources and leadership to stop cartels, jail leadership and forfeit assets. The sheriffs’ program is a failure. Cartels operate along trade corridors. So resources need to go where cartels do crime.”

Dominguez said the money allowed he and his four deputies – who are split into two offices in the county’s two towns 50 miles apart – to buy all new equipment.

“We’re a very poor county,” Dominguez said. Dominguez said his county’s almost non-existent crime statistics don’t reflect the need for prevention.

Sheriffs formed the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition in 2005 to lobby for funding. The federal government refused a request for $100,000, so the state quickly pledged several million dollars in state money and federal funds administered by the state.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry faced three opponents in his 2006 re-election campaign and focused heavily on border security at a time when violence threatened to spill over from Mexico into the United States.

Donald Reay, the coalition’s executive director, said the money has made the border a safer place. “We are making communities safer,” said Reay, a retired federal agent. “Your chance of prevention increases if you have an increased presence.”

Reay said several million dollars in new grants are currently being issued according to “threat levels,” determined by the sheriffs.

Steve McCraw, Perry’s director of Homeland Security, said crime data doesn’t give a complete picture of crime in a given border area.

“We’re focused on the threat, based on vulnerability. When you talk about vulnerability you’re only as strong as your weakest link,” McCraw said. “You can’t just look at a threat…tied to (crime) data, you also have to look at it from a vulnerability perspective.”

McCraw said “border incident reports” of trespassing, vandalism and other non-violent crimes could be evidence of “organized smuggling efforts.”

Sheriff Oscar Carrillo, whose Culberson County department reported four non-violent or drug crimes in 2006 and received $321,416 in crime-fighting grants – or about $80,000 per crime – said the funding puts him on even footing with larger counties.

“When this whole thing started we had no capabilities, we had no off road equipment, next to no ballistic protection,” said Carrillo, whose county of about 2,700 people covers about 3,800 square miles of desert and a stretch of Interstate 10.

He and Dominguez said they won’t apologize for applying for as much grant money as they can get. “If it’s out there, we are going to apply,” Dominguez said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Article Topic Follows: News

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo



KVIA ABC 7 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content