Gov. Rick Perry is expanding Operation Border Star, a multi-agency border security effort he launched in 2007, sending teams of Texas Rangers and National Guard troops to curb border crime and prevent spillover violence from Mexico.
"This is the latest in a series of aggressive actions we've taken to fill the gap left by the federal government's ongoing failure to adequately secure our international border," Perry announced in Houston.
He also reissued his call for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to send more National Guard troops to the border and said he has sunk another $2 million into his border Web camera program (see our earlier story here).
Perry did not say how many Rangers or National Guard troops would be stationed on the 1,254-mile Texas-Mexico border.
Tom Vinger, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman, said there are currently 130 Texas Rangers, and the agency plans to hire 14 more. He declined to say how many Rangers are assigned to the border.
Perry said so-called "Ranger Recon Teams" have been on the border since August, investigating burglaries of rural ranches, homes and hunting camps.
He said the teams would also be key to preventing the Mexican drug war from seeping into the U.S.
Citing the more than 1,500 murders in Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Perry reiterated his call for the federal government to pay to send National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border. He first asked DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano in January to approve the troop surge.
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Perry also briefly noted that he had awarded another $2 million grant to operate surveillance cameras on the border.
The Tribune reported yesterday that Perry had made the $2 million award to the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition despite documents that showed the camera program failed to meet nearly all of its law enforcement goals during the first full year it was operational.
Perry's office argues that the camera program didn't miss its goals but that the targets were improperly set at the outset of the first $2 million grant. The targets were revised after the first year; after the changes, they closely match that year's actual results.
The governor's office issued a revised year-end report earlier this summer after fielding a reporter's questions about why an initial year-end report showed the cameras did not meet the original goals. The revised report listed goals that were dramatically downsized.
Instead of 200 cameras, the revised report showed the coalition was expected to install only 15, a target the sheriffs exceeded by installing 17 cameras.
The goal for arrests was shifted from 1,200 down to 25, more in line with the 11 arrests the coalition actually reported.
Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said the initial goals should have been adjusted sooner and attributed the lapse to technological glitches.
State Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen, said she'd rather see state investment in more boots on the border than in the camera program that seems less effective.
Texas Rangers and National Guard troops could be helpful if they coordinate with local and federal law enforcement, she said.
"We welcome monies, and we welcome the Governor paying close attention to our security," Gonzales said. "But we also know these are tough economic times, so we want to make sure the money is spent as effectively as possible."