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- 03-22-2012, 10:50 PM #1
TX - Border security not on the top of the list
By Stewart M. Powell
Updated 01:35 p.m., Tuesday, March 20, 2012
WASHINGTON – Despite political demands for troops and arms to protect the Texas border, state authorities have approved handing over the bulk of surplus military equipment offered by the Pentagon to nearly everywhere but South Texas.
The Pentagon's Law Enforcement Support Office distributed a record $468 million in surplus equipment nationwide last year - with $17.6 million of it going to Texas. Yet, few of the 111 trucks, 267 guns or 14,000 other individual surplus items went to counties bordering Mexico, according to a detailed breakout by the Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services reviewed by the Houston Chronicle.
Critics say the focus of the program in Texas has gradually shifted away from border security as the Texas Department of Public Safety - which helps decide what goes where - weighs more and more competing applications for equipment submitted by cash-strapped law enforcement agencies across the Lone Star State.
"When you look at what was given out last year, you see only a few agencies along the border that got one or two pieces of equipment, while a few police forces elsewhere got pages and pages of equipment," said Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo. "If people are going to talk border security, let's put the resources into border security."
For example, the Round Rock police, 253 miles north of the border crossing at Laredo, received 4,526 pieces of surplus gear. The Wichita County Sheriff's Department came in second with 2,212 pieces of equipment and police in Rising Star, 371 miles north of Laredo, counted 815.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has routinely called border security a top priority in his third administration. He has made "repeated requests" to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss the need for greater federal resources along the border, says spokeswoman Allison Castle.
But the geographic distribution of the equipment - most of it returning from the war in Iraq - stems solely from the location of agencies that submitted applications rather than decisions made by Perry's designated coordinator for the program, she said.
"It's first-come, first-served, so every law enforcement agency in the program has equal access to the equipment," says Castle. "Any law enforcement agency can sign up."
10% for the border?
At the start, the Pentagon's surplus equipment program, which since 1997 has doled out $2.6 billion in war equipment, was designed to help federal, state and local law enforcement agencies augment federal campaigns against drug trafficking, unlawful border crossings or the threat of terrorist infiltration. Texas has seen a 15-fold increase in the value of military gear awarded the last six years.
But last year, of those 267 pistols and rifles awarded law enforcement agencies across Texas, 105 went to Odessa. Austin police got 977 pieces of equipment.
But the growing deliveries of gear far from the border is provoking the ire of some Texans on Capitol Hill who want to force the Pentagon to allocate at least 10 percent of the equipment to federal and state agencies and award "a preference" to departments guarding the 1,969-mile border.
"We need this equipment at the border," insists Republican Congressman Ted Poe of Humble, who crafted legislation to force just such a preference. "We don't need Humvees and Predators and night vision goggles in Dallas or Austin or Houston."
Even the well-connected Webb County Sheriff's office, led by Martin Cuellar, the congressman's brother, has only managed to obtain three major pieces of surplus military equipment since 2010 to bolster efforts across the border area. The equipment includes an all-terrain Humvee, an eight-ton armored personnel carrier and an observation helicopter to help track drug traffickers and spot victims in natural disasters. The helicopter is one of 82 surplus military aircraft turned over to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies over the past 30 months.
"These were big items that would be hard to get with our budget constraints," says Pete Arredondo, the assistant chief in the Webb County Sheriff's Office.
HPD's take declines
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia obtained four 2½-ton military cargo trucks in 2009 for emergency deployment of law enforcement personnel and high water rescues. The Houston Police Department secured a decommissioned Boeing 737 passenger airliner in 2010 for training the SWAT team, the special response group, the bomb squad and canine units to respond to emergencies at Houston airports.
But last year, HPD's take was limited to 77 items, ranging from two Humvees to safety glasses, combat gloves and camouflaged elbow pads.
By the numbers
4,526: Pieces of gear, the most, that went to police in Round Rock, in the Hill Country
2,212: Pieces to the sheriff's department in Wichita County, on the Oklahoma border, second-highest 815: Pieces that went to police in Rising Star, 371 miles north of Laredo Source: Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services
Border security not on the top of the list - Houston ChronicleWe have immigration laws that just need to be enforced.