Pubdate: Fri,  1 Sep 2000
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Address: P.O. Box 9136, Corpus Christi, TX 78469-9136
Copyright: 2000 Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Author: Jermey Schwartz


South Texas Specialized Crimes And Narcotics Task Force A Group That Pays For Itself

Drug dealers and smugglers beware: Of the nearly 50 state-sponsored narcotics task forces in the state, the South Texas Specialized Crimes and Narcotics Task Force was recently ranked the state's top drug task force.

This week's announcement was the first time the task force, which serves Brooks, Jim Wells and Kleberg counties, had taken the state's top spot.

The rankings are based on a number of factors, including number of arrests, amount of drugs seized and ability to work with other law enforcement agencies.

Jaime Garza, commander of the 12-officer task force, said his officers split time between patrolling U.S. Highways 77 and 281, two well-known drug smuggling routes from Mexico, and in the towns and cities of the three counties, fighting local drug dealers.

"It's just something we're really excited about," Garza said. "It means our project is working 100 percent."

Since June 1999, the task force has seized $10 million worth of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other drugs and made 367 arrests. During the same time, the task force assisted other agencies in seizing another $10 million in drugs and making 141 arrests.

"We're trying to be involved with everything," Garza said. "Our agenda is to become part of the communities (we serve)."

Brooks County Sheriff Balde Lozano said the task force has been invaluable in setting up undercover operations because most of his officers are well known in the community.

"They set up drug surveillance and buys," Lozano said. "They've been real helpful down here because we haven't always had the manpower. They've taken some major local drug dealers off our hands." Capt. Richard Miller of the Jim Wells County Sheriff's Department also said the task force has co-operated well with deputies.

"They do a lot of work here," Miller said. "The more manpower you can get for anything, the better."

And the work the task force does comes at no cost to law enforcement agencies or local citizens. Garza said the task force is dependent on grant money and cash and property seizures to stay afloat. "We have to support ourselves," he said. "We're free law enforcement."

Some of the task force's highlights over the past year include:

On Nov. 30, assisting on a cash seizure of $1.5 million on U.S. Highway 281 north of Alice. After a routine traffic stop, officers found the money in seven 25-pound boxes in the trunk of a rental car driven southbound by two Mexican nationals.

In May, task force officers nabbed a 21-year-old Kingsville man who tried to sell undercover agents 150 pills of the rave drug ecstasy. An investigation into ecstasy selling in the Kingsville area is ongoing.

But the task force doesn't battle drugs exclusively, Garza said. Several months ago, the task force helped the Kingsville Police Department break up a burglary ring that was plaguing the city.

The task force also tries to take some preventative measures as opposed to simply busting drug users, Garza said.

Officers give talks in area schools to warn students about drugs. And if teenagers are caught smoking a joint, for example, officers won't necessarily arrest them if they aren't into anything too terrible.

"We talk to parents to make them aware of what their kids are up to," Garza said. "We're trying to become part of the community."
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