At a time when the interest in funding agencies is low at best, the Texas Department of Public Safety has been benefiting from an influx of hundreds of millions of dollars from state policy makers. Though the surge in DPS presence and power along the border started under then-Governor Rick Perry, the legislature approved an exponential increase in funding under Governor Abbott’s leadership in the budget for the next biennium.
Central to the motivation for this funding and support are claims about the effectiveness of “Operation Strong Safety” and the involvement of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB), as well as a now-constant attack on the federal government for failing to “secure the border,” forcing the state of Texas to step up to the plate.
In a letter to Congressman Castro responding to his inquiries about CPB’s involvement in the DPS border surge, Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske’s account appears to refute many of these claims.
The Dallas Morning News recalled past statements by Tom Vinger, the spokesman for DPS, that explicitly tied CPB to the surge on the border. He claimed that DPS has “worked closely with our Border Patrol partners for many years on border security efforts in Texas.” Efforts, according to the Dallas Morning News, that included Operation Strong Safety.
In the letter, Kerlikowske states:
- Gov. Rick Perry announced the commencement of (Operation Strong Safety), and made an appeal to President Obama for action and for assistance from the federal government. With a full-scale response effort by (the Department of Homeland Security) already underway, (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) declined participation in the operation.
Not only was the CPB not involved with Operation Strong Safety, as Governor Perry and state lawmakers had claimed, their decision was based on the level of involvement another branch of the federal government already had in addressing the heightened needs for security on the border.
Vinger also released a statement on Tuesday, the El Paso Times reports, that seems to refute the information found in the letter from CPB:
- The Department of Public Safety has worked closely with our Border Patrol partners for many years on border security efforts in Texas, including Operation Border Star, Operation Stonegarden, Operation Drawbridge, and most recently Operation Strong Safety (OSS). Along with many other state and local law enforcement partners, the U.S. Border Patrol provides agents to staff and assist with the OSS unified command center. Additionally, Border Patrol provides critical assistance in our six Joint Operations Intelligence Centers, and the Border Security Operations Center in Austin.
But that’s not the only problem with DPS’ story about the surge. Whether or not the CPB was involved, DPS – and the lawmakers who support their funding – has been pointing to an increase in drug seizures and arrests along the border following the surge as evidence that funding the agency leads to results. El Paso Times compared DPS statistics with those from the CPB, and found that this claim doesn’t hold much water.
According to the Times, “Through the first 7½ months of Operation Strong Safety, federal agents seized an amount equal to 94 percent of the marijuana and 96 percent of the heroin that the state has been citing to claim success for the state program.”
So we’re clear: when the El Paso Times compared the drug seizure statistics put out by DPS as proof of the success of their program with the numbers cited by CPB, they found that almost 100% of these seizures were actually made by federal agents. If, as Vinger and state lawmakers claim, DPS was really working closely with CPB, this overlap would make sense. But, as Kerlikowski’s letter to Congressman Castro explained, that simply wasn’t the case.
Though the CPB did respond to Castro, one Texas lawmaker is still waiting to hear back from DPS. State Representative Cesar Blanco of El Paso asked DPS to share their statistics months ago.
“While CBP responded to my request for border surge statistics, DPS’s secrecy regarding how the state compiles its records makes it impossible to evaluate the state government’s role in border security,” Castro said, “For $800 million, the people of Texas deserve to know whether DPS is making any impact on the Texas-Mexico border. We can’t just take their word for it.”