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Texas State Police Surges Challenged By Borderland Sheriffs

A Texas DPS trooper on patrol in West Texas (Tom Michael/KRTS)

Mistrust of law enforcement on the border is hardly rare. The ebb and flow of policing the border in a post-9/11 world means someone or some group is almost always upset.

But in Texas, there’s apparent distrust within law enforcement itself. It involves how intelligence is not shared and how that’s in turn causing stress for some citizens along the largest section of the United States-Mexico border.

Currently, Texas border sheriffs and state police (the Department of Public Safety) are trying to resolve a major difference of opinion.

DPS doesn’t tell sheriffs when it sends in extra troopers to conduct border operations. The policy is meant to put a lid on intelligence, to seal information leaks before they can spill.

But sheriffs say the trust that all law enforcement depends on to work in communities is compromised when citizens face a suddenly bolstered DPS launching high intensity border operations.

Rick McIvor, the sheriff in Jeff Davis County in West Texas, chairs the Texas Sheriffs Border Coalition.

“If DPS comes in and runs a big project," he said, "they leave a big burden on the communities.”

The coalition is a nonprofit representing 20 borderland sheriffs. It receives state grants as part of the Texas Border Watch Programcreated by Gov. Rick Perry in 2006.

Yet McIvor isn't told in advance when state police are about to move in for a surge, which involves mobile checkpoints and increased traffic stops.

“It doesn’t take anything but just a regular phone call. I can tell you this. Game wardens? I know everything in advance. Not during or after we were there, always before," McIvor said.

This isn’t a matter of etiquette. Money is at stake.

State police want more money to put more agents and equipment on the border. Border sheriffs want any additional money the state is considering for law enforcement to be used to bolster their efforts in communities they already work in.

“We feel the surges are inappropriate," said McIvor. "Why can’t we we run the surges ourselves instead of having a bunch of people who don’t even want to be here to run a surge?"

In April, a Texas Senate committee heard sheriffs from five border counties whose jurisdictions include hundreds of miles along the Rio Grande.

“When the surges come in, it disrupts the community," Sheriff Eusevio Salinas of Zavala County told lawmakers. "It creates mayhem.”

Highly-visible law enforcement is a given in West Texas, as it is along much of the 1,933 mile U.S.-Mexico border.

County Judge Paul Hunt is the chief elected official in Presidio County, a border county with very little crime. He's unhappy that either faction of law enforcement wants more state funding.

“This is part and parcel to a pattern that is distorting our lives on the border," he told Fronteras Desk in his chambers during a wide-ranging private conversation. "We have a border paranoia that is driving unwise law enforcement expenditures.”

DPS did not respond to requests for comment. But Hunt says it's unfair to target the agency alone. He says state troopers are part of a mosaic that includes the U.S.Border Patrol and local sheriffs.

“All of the law enforcement on the border are tripping over themselves in order to get what they consider an entitlement for law enforcement funds on the border.”

DPS funding is major point of contention in the race for Texas governor. Republican Greg Abbott proposes hiring 500 new DPS officers who would conduct continuous border surges.

His opponent, Democrat Wendy Davis, says Abbott’s proposal is “an affront to the border region."

Democratic state Sen. Jose Rodriguez will help shape the next DPS budget which will be in force through fiscal year 2016. He has already appeared before the state's Committee on Homeland Security and that committee's recommendations will weigh heavily as the DPS budget is negotiated inside the Texas State Capitol in Austin.

“It makes no sense to me to allocate more state dollars for additional DPS officers to do the kind of patrolling and kind of law enforcement that our sheriffs and local police are already engaged in," said Rodriguez.

All this is playing out against a backdrop of recent, heavy enforcement by federal agencies on the border.

A recent DEA raid in Alpine, Texas, was part of an operation in 29 states known as Synergy Phase 2, and the U.S. Border Patrol has just ended Operation Chinati Triangle, a full court press against undocumented border crossers.