Pubdate: Sun, 04 Jun 2006
Source: Monitor, The (McAllen, TX)
Copyright: 2006 The Monitor
Author: Cari Hammerstron, Monitor Staff Writer


McALLEN -- Economically depressed areas and their similarly poor
police departments benefit most from High Intensity Drug Trafficking

The HIDTA program not only disrupts drug trafficking organizations,
but it gets money to the law enforcement agencies that need it most.

"In the smaller police departments, they don't have adequate resources
to attack and destroy," said Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene
Guerra. "They have enough problems with the local crime, the domestic
violence and the burglary.  If they join (HIDTA), the assets go
back to them. If they help us, we help them by asset sharing."

HIDTA programs generate more money in asset seizures than it costs to
run the programs. For example, the Starr County HIDTA initiative --
which is under South Texas HIDTA -- received almost $555,000 to
operate in fiscal year 2004 with 19 full-time members. But it seized
nearly $1.4 million in currency and assets.

"A large portion of these funds is eventually forfeited, distributed
among the federal, state and local member agencies and used to fund
other drug control programs," according to the HIDTA program's 2004
annual report.

In Starr County, where unemployment has run in double digits and the
per-capita income is among the lowest in the country, drug trafficking
historically has been a staple of the local economy.

And it has gotten worse, said Heriberto Silva, district attorney for
Starr, Jim Hogg, and Duval counties, who is also part of South Texas
HIDTA's executive board.

The increase in drug-related crime is a "direct result of the
beefed-up effort of the Border Patrol and DEA," he said.

The surrounding counties have received more federal agents. No agents
have been removed from Starr County, he said, but the others counties
are patrolled more heavily.

"Drug traffickers go where it's wide open," Silva said.

He points to the numerous home invasions, pseudo-cop robberies and
kidnappings that have occurred in Starr County -- crimes that often
are related to the drug trade, he said.

The HIDTA program is of utmost importance in Starr County. These
agents can do what local police departments cannot -- concentrate on
drug trafficking organizations by infiltrating cells, going undercover
and weeding out who does not belong.

Starr County is tight-knit community, so HIDTA task force agents know
when they see an outsider, Silva said.

"The main thing is the presence of the officers is felt," he

One Starr County District Attorney's Office attorney and one
investigator, two Zapata County Sheriff's Office investigators, two
Rio Grande City Police Department narcotics investigators and one
secretary, and two Starr County Sheriff's Department investigators are
HIDTA-funded positions.

"We're using the same money against (the drug traffickers)," Silva
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