Feds Beef Up West Texas Law Enforcement Agencies with Special Task Force
SAN ANGELO, TX — Transnational organized crime is spreading into west Texas as law enforcement beefs up along the I-35 corridor from Laredo through San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas to the Oklahoma border. This is pushing organized drug traffickers and human smugglers westward where law enforcement assets are less plentiful.
To help combat drug smuggling and human trafficking gangs west of there, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is establishing a special task force to aid county and municipal law enforcement agencies here.
ICE calls the organizations “Border Enforcement Task Forces” and the task force announced yesterday at Mathis Field in San Angelo will be the 58th such task force formed. It will be called the “West Texas Panhandle Border Enforcement Security Task Force.”
Crockett County with the city of Ozona and Sutton County with the city of Sonora are just one county north of the Texas-Mexico border. “As criminal organizations become more and more sophisticated in planning and executing their crimes and avoiding capture, we in law enforcement must become more efficient and more effective in partnering with our fellow law enforcement agencies,” said Katrina W. Berger, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Dallas. “Our law enforcement partners already have tremendous training, expertise and unique law enforcement authorities. HSI’s BEST task forces, and the latest West Texas Panhandle Border Enforcement Security Task Force, will help us all work better together to combat these criminals and protect the public — the most basic and primary goals for any law enforcement agency.”
The task force will work closely with the Tom Green County Sheriff’s Office, said Sheriff David Jones. Jones, like his counterpart in Taylor County and Abilene, Sheriff Ricky Bishop, lament the budget-strapped environment local law enforcement is experiencing, particularly in rural west Texas counties. “With the ability to share information and work closely with other agencies, we are able to do more than we could if we were having to work alone,” Sheriff Bishop said at the inauguration ceremonies Thursday. The BEST concept will act as a second front, assisting law enforcement agencies that currently work tangentially along the border with Mexico. BESTs are created to attempt to eliminate the barriers between federal and local investigations, and close the gap with international partners in multinational criminal investigations. BESTs also create an environment that minimizes the vulnerabilities in law enforcement operations that transnational criminal organizations have traditionally capitalized on to exploit the land and sea borders of the United States.
The West Texas Panhandle Border Enforcement Security Task Force is the 58th task force formed in the nation and the eighth formed in Texas.
The following agencies will join ICE in forming this task force:
- U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Texas, Abilene Division;
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Del Rio Air Branch;
- ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, San Angelo Suboffice;
- CBP U.S. Border Patrol, Rocksprings Station;
- U.S. Marshal’s Service;
- Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Abilene Office of the Resident Agent in Charge;
- Texas Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Criminal Investigative Division (CID), San Angelo;
- Taylor County Sheriff’s Office, Abilene, Texas;
- Tom Green County Sheriff’s Office, San Angelo;
- Big Spring (Texas) Police Department;
- Sonora (Texas) Police Department;
- U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services, San Angelo;
- San Angelo Police Department
A Background on BEST
(Provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ICE).
In 2005, HSI created the first BEST in Laredo, Texas, in partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other federal, state, local and international law enforcement agencies. BEST Laredo represented HSI’s first combined, direct response to growing violence along the Mexican border, and established the baseline for implementing the program elsewhere.
The success of the BEST investigative model is predicated on all BEST partner special agents and Task Force Officers (TFO) working together in one location, recognizing and leveraging a threat-based risk-mitigating investigative task force model. The model leverages the unique resources and abilities of all participating law enforcement partners, and the availability to designate partner law enforcement officers with Title 19 customs authorities. This has led to expanding the BEST investigative model to northern border and commercial seaport locations.
BEST special agents and TFOs investigate a wide range of criminal activity with a nexus to our land and sea borders, to include drug trafficking, arms trafficking, human trafficking and smuggling, gangs, money laundering and bulk cash smuggling, child exploitation, maritime smuggling, illicit tunnels and commercial fraud.
BESTs are located along the northern and southwest land borders, major seaports, and international airports from Hawaii to Puerto Rico. These BESTs comprise about 1,000 members representing more than 100 federal, state, local, tribal and international law enforcement agencies that have jointly committed to investigate transnational criminal activity and enhancing border security. Jaime Zapata BEST Act
In December 2012, President Barack Obama signed into law the Jaime Zapata Border Enforcement Security Task Force Act. The law was named in memory of Jaime Zapata, an HSI special agent assigned to a BEST who was killed on duty in Mexico. This law amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to formally establish the BEST program and authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to direct the assignment of federal personnel to the program, as well as take other actions to aid federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies in participating in such task forces.
BESTs incorporate personnel from:
- Department of Homeland Security (HSI, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations; CBP Offices of Field Operations, Border Patrol, and Air and Marine; U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Secret Service);
- Department of Justice (Drug Enforcement Administration; Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives; FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Offices);
- Department of Defense (Army Criminal Investigations Command, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Naval Criminal Investigative Service and state National Guard units);
- Department of the Treasury (Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations);
- Other federal partners;
- More than 100 state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies; and
- International law enforcement agencies.