|Securing the border: AZ D.P.S.|
|Written by Kellen Chavez|
During the past couple of years the drug crisis in Mexico has escalated to heights unseen in modern times. While Mexican President Felipe Calderon has staked a portion of his legacy on ridding his nation of the dangers brought about by the drug trade, those same cartels have pushed back with horrifying disregard for authority and human life. In 2008 alone, 5,300 murders were tied to the drug conflict whether by rival cartels battling each other or cartels striking against the government.
Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) Commander Dan Wells said during an April 3 presentation on the border crisis, "The tactics used by the cartels are nothing short of terrorism." But while the situation in Mexico seems to worsen by the day, with southern Arizona sharing its border with the country, DPS has been very proactive and meticulous in its efforts to identify border-violence trends and how they could affect Arizona.
After a high-profile shoot out in May 2007 where Mexican drug cartel enforcers dressed in military-style uniforms attacked a police station in the Mexican town of Cananea, DPS Director Roger Vanderpool set a priority that the agency's Intelligence Bureau share protocol and information with city, state and federal agencies stationed along the Mexico border. DPS Criminal Investigations Division Chief David Denlinger said, "Utilizing the HIDTA intelligence support center in Tucson and the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC) in Phoenix, we monitor violence trends in the Mexican state of Sonora just south of the border.
"Whenever there is an incident that could be a threat to the border region, we monitor that and then provide notification to the affected area police agencies. "In the case of ongoing violence, we also have a process in place to stand up a joint operations center with the region's federal, state and local agencies to receive and distribute information about the ongoing incident. The HIDTA intelligence support center also tracks acts of violence against Arizona's law enforcement officials, to track trends.
"When trends appear imminent or likely to cross the border, that notification gets put out to our officers and we set up a joint operations center at the Border Patrol station in Tucson to monitor updates." To add perspective to the crisis that looms south of our border, the two most powerful Mexican drug cartels have a combined strength of about 100,000 foot soldiers. In the past six years, the Mexican army has experienced a turnover of 150,000 soldiers on its own. In a three-hour Nogales shootout on Nov. 3, 2008, Mexican authorities experienced such dire conditions that they put out a call for additional ammunition supplies.
While Denlinger said that the level of cartel-related violence currently taking place in Mexico is unlike anything DPS has ever had to counter in Arizona, the American gun smuggling trade is a profound issue that must be addressed. He said, "A significant percentage of firearms homicides in Mexico come as a result of rounds fired from guns made in the United States. We're trying to make strides in not only interdicting those weapons before they reach Mexico but identifying the source and investigating the people who are supplying those."
In November 2008, Mexican authorities raided a cartel weapon cache that included 540 assault rifles, over 500,000 rounds of ammunition and 14 crates of dynamite. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that the Mexican cartels have presence in 230 American cities. Along with communities in southern Arizona, Phoenix has long served as a transshipment point for these cartels. Denlinger talked about initial steps towards addressing this smuggling problem. He said, "Our agency's primary interdiction is going to be the DPS Highway Patrol presence out there since our patrol officers are the ones making contact daily with smugglers on our state highways. "Our primary concern is for their safety while they are making these traffic stops and doing these investigations. Again, this is because of the complete disregard for authority and human life displayed by some smuggling groups and those associated with them." DPS has created or is partnered in almost 10 different border-related enforcement efforts. These efforts range from canine drug detections teams, human smuggling prevention and apprehension, fraudulent identity investigations, weapon smuggling, financial investigations and overall intelligence pertaining to illegal and violent border activity. DPS efforts are not without limitation, however.
Denlinger said, "It takes money and manpower to investigate those organizations and to investigate them with advanced means like wiretaps. "We also require resources to do the intelligence work and help us collect information and to help us identify who our targets are. We need to be able to track those key suppliers and traffickers so their organizations can be investigated and disrupted."
Given Arizona's current budget crisis, DPS must be very prudent in its allocation of resources and manpower. After all, there couldn't be more at stake in the parallel effort to maintain the safety of communities and law enforcement personnel in Arizona while taking steps that could help restore sanity to violence plagued regions in Mexico. The mission of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, a dynamic state-level law enforcement agency in Arizona, is to protect human life and property by enforcing state laws, deterring criminal activity, assuring the safety of the motoring public on Arizona's highways and providing vital scientific, technical and operational support to other criminal justice agencies.
The Department, also one of Arizona's largest law enforcement agencies with some 2,200 sworn and civilian employees, consists of four divisions - Highway Patrol, Criminal Investigations, Criminal Justice Support and Agency Support. The Department is headquartered in Phoenix with offices located in more than 80 communities within Arizona's 15 counties.