Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sheriffs privatizing border web cams

Gov. Perry's first stab at his much-ballyhooed border webcams didn't pan out so well, but he and the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition are back for another try, this time with a private sector partner who's attempting to profit from the venture by selling advertising.

The Sheriffs Coalition, spending grant money given them by the Governor, "paid $625,000 for one year of service, parts and materials and agreed to pay other fees for future services," according to the El Paso Times. (Grits readers may recall that one of the 16 members of the Border Sheriffs Coalition was recently arrested for allegedly working in cahoots with the Mexican-based Gulf Cartel.)

But don't expect loads of new arrests to result from the webcams, if history is any guide. Again from the El Paso Times ("Border watch program called waste of money," Nov. 25):

Perry launched a test-run of the border watch site with about a dozen cameras streaming video in November 2006. It got millions of hits and generated more than 14,800 e-mails. But an El Paso Times analysis of reports obtained through the open records requests revealed that all that Web traffic resulted in 10 immigrant apprehensions, one drug bust and the interruption of one smuggling route. ...

John Honovich, founder of IP Video Market Info, said studies of surveillance programs have shown they usually deter crime only temporarily.

"Unless criminals observe and determine that the system is effective, the deterrence effect goes away," Honovich said.

Another example of border policy driven more by PR than public safety. If investigators had to react to 14,00 emails during the pilot program but it only generated 10 immigrant apprehensions, that's a ridiculously low amount of bang for the buck.

This is an utterly pointless exercise, but I'm sure it will be ably spun in the Governor's campaign materials come 2010.

RELATED: A reader points me to today's story by the El Paso Times' Brandi Grissom, who picks up on the fact that in at least two instances, millions from the Governor's border security grants to Sheriffs were spent by people later indicted as drug cartel operatives. She writes that:

Starr County Sheriff Reymundo Guerra and Hidalgo County sheriff's Deputy Emmanuel Sanchez last month became the latest in a long history of border law enforcement officers accused of aiding and abetting the criminals they are supposed to fight.

Those two departments were among the many that have received money from Perry to participate in state-led border security efforts that began in 2005. Records the El Paso Times obtained under the Texas Freedom of Information Act the two counties received more than $4.8 million in state and federal grants from Perry from 2005 to 2008.

Critics of the operations say there are too few accountability measures attached to the border crime funds and worry that corrupt officers could use taxpayer money to help drug traffickers.

"We may as well just send it directly to drug dealers," said state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, long a critic of Perry's border operations. "We've been spending money against our own interests."

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