LAREDO — Claims that state troopers are harassing residents along the border are "garbage," the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety said Thursday.
“That’s garbage, that’s the bottom line,” DPS Director Steve McCraw said of accusations that troopers sent to the Rio Grande Valley as part of the state's border surge of law enforcement are doing nothing more than pulling over people for traffic violations and mistreating them.
“Anybody has a complaint about how a trooper has treated them at any given time, we want to know about it because we’ll certainly investigate it,” he told reporters during a meeting of the Texas Border Coalition, an advocacy group composed of elected officials and community and business leaders from the Texas-Mexico border. “If they’re treated without respect, we will address it case by case and we’ve got the video to prove it.”
McCraw's comments came after some TBC members expressed concerns about the $800 million the Texas Legislature allocated last session for an unprecedented buildup of state law enforcement along the border.
“Our members question the $800 million to the department. We don’t believe in making assumptions, we believe on making decisions based off of empirical data,” said Monica Weisberg-Stewart, chairwoman of the coalition's immigration and border security subcommittee. “We know for a fact that people are (being harassed) and being pulled over. So then the question is ‘How does that really help border security, what’s the big picture here?'”
The DPS effort has largely been confined to the Rio Grande Valley in Starr and Hidalgo counties. But McCraw said the effort could expand based on need, which would involve input from local law enforcement agencies.
The border surge began last summer after tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants entered Texas illegally through the Rio Grande Valley. It was subsequently expanded and the effort codified when the Legislature approved the record border-security budget that kicked in September 1.
McCraw didn’t offer many specifics on what the agency has accomplished in the first month, but said efforts were underway to meet long-term goals.
“Our detection capacity is up. We have 81 new troopers that have been assigned in South Texas and West Texas,” he said. “In terms of numbers of apprehensions and drugs and all those things our focus has been – and our guidance has been — to increase detection capacity and do it zone by zone. We are already making inroads on that.”
Weisberg-Stewart said she wasn’t dismissing the effort completely and acknowledged it was in its early stages. But she said she expected the investment to yield positive results. If not it would be another example of Austin and Washington putting the "cart before the horse," she said.
‘The devil is in the details and at this point, the empirical data is not showing us (the need),” she said. “I am not being a skeptic. I am just a realist and I believe in being proactive and not reactive.”
She also said the Legislature made a mistake when it declined to fund a Carrizo cane eradication project to rid the border of an invasive plant species that provides cover for smugglers. She said that has been on the TBC’s wish list for 10 years.
“(Gov. Greg Abbott) should put that money towards something that will actually assist the federal government,” she said.
Abbott included funding for the project in his proposed budget but the Senate Finance Committee declined to make the appropriation.
McCraw declined to comment on why the effort wasn’t funded, but said that money could always be allocated for the cane removal later.
“There could be a request to the [Legislative Budget Board] that allows to allocate some funding to do that,” he said.