RIO GRANDE CITY, Texas (KXAN) – In the past decade, Texas lawmakers have funded a string of Department of Public Safety operations – in large part – to stop drug smugglers from entering the state from Mexico. But a nine-month KXAN investigation reveals very few of the arrests DPS troopers are making on the border are the bad guys they were sent to catch. In fact, most are drunk drivers. And when the worst criminals are actually apprehended, they often do not go to prison.
Accounts from local law enforcement and drug seizure data show - despite heavy spending - drugs are still making their way across the border and into Central Texas. A DPS report in the last legislative session stated its effort at that time "deters cartel smuggling...but it does not secure the border." Soon, lawmakers will weigh the agency's biggest border security request yet - more than a billion taxpayer dollars to deploy even more troopers.
Since 2008, DPS has received $1.6 Billion for its border operations. Now agency leaders are asking state lawmakers for $1.07 Billion more to continue the surge.
The latest request would not only cover the salaries of a permanent allotment of 250 troopers on the border by the end of this year, but it would also pay to double that amount to 500 troopers in the next two years.
A two-year analysis of DPS border offenses reveals only 6% were for felony drug possession, and less than 1% were human smuggling offenses. In fact, most were for drunk driving and misdemeanor drug violations.
In Hidalgo and Starr Counties, the two counties where DPS border operations peak, a 500-case analysis found – of cases closed – a quarter of felony drug offenders only got probation. And 33% got probation after a short stint in jail – but no prison.
KXAN discovered some of the cases we reviewed were dismissed because the defendants pleaded guilty in other criminal cases. But others were dismissed “in the interest of justice” or due to “lack of probable cause” to search the defendant and/or their vehicle.
KXAN sent a team of investigators to the border to document, analyze and monitor the impact of the DPS border surge.