By SEAN MARCINIAK
McALLEN Drug statistics compiled from fiscal year 2001 indicate that U.S.
Customs inspectors working in South Texas are intercepting more drug shipments
while U.S. Border Patrol agents are catching less.
South Texas has been called the drug gateway to the United States. Perhaps
because more than 17 percent of all Customs-led drug seizures happen along the
lower portion of the Rio Grande. Also, Border Patrol agents view the area as
the busiest of the agencys 21 sectors.
But because agencies report statistics from jurisdictions that encompass
slightly different geographic areas, drawing conclusions is difficult.
In addition, federal officials said there usually are too many variables to
analyze numbers within a single agency that would allow them to pinpoint
trends from year to year, much less to compare agencies.
But at least one anti-drug investigator said that by cross-referencing numbers
with reports by informants and criminals, he has decided U.S. officials are
intercepting just a small fraction of drug traffickers shipments.
Lupe Trevio is commander of the local bureau of the federally sponsored High
Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force that works with both Customs and
Border Patrol officials.
Trevio believes increased seizures reflect that drug traffickers are
smuggling more narcotics through the area.
I think we are barely maintaining ground, Lucio said. I dont know that
were making any real headway.
Federal officials have estimated only 10 percent of all dope loads are
actually seized, noting thats still a lot of drugs.
Customs reported that officials working in their South Texas sector a
jurisdiction between Brownsville, Del Rio, San Angelo and Austin that includes
10 ports of entry and their surrounding areas seized almost 317,000 pounds
of marijuana and cocaine. Thats almost a 33 percent increase from the 239,000
pounds they captured the previous year.
While anti-terrorism is now the No. 1 priority for all U.S. Customs Service
officers, the increased drug seizure numbers demonstrate the skill and
determination of Customs employees in interdicting all types of contraband,
Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner said in a prepared statement.
While Customs inspectors have caught more drug loads, U.S. Border Patrol
agents have seen a decrease in their seizure rate.
Supervisory Agent Carlos Quevado said agents who work in the
17,000-square-mile McAllen Sector, stretching from Brownsville to Starr County
to Lavaca County, this year seized about 370,000 pounds of marijuana about a
15-percent drop from the 436,000 pounds captured the previous year.
Border Patrol agents said that a larger security presence on the border has
deterred traffickers the goal of a 1997 initiative called Operation Rio
Grande, in which agents increased the number of agents along the river,
beginning at its mouth and moving inland.
But Trevio, head of the Hidalgo County HIDTA Task Force, said that
conclusions are difficult to draw simply from increases and decreases in the
size and number of drug seizures.
Thats a point that we talk about all the time. When your seizure statistics
go up, what does that mean? he said. Does that mean we have gotten better,
or does it just simply mean status quo? If the smuggling has increased and we
keep up the same effort, then obviously seizures are going to increase also.
What can you deduct from these statistics? You can only get a true analysis
if you couple this information with the information you receive from your
informants and by debriefing people that have been busted. You ask the people
that are involved, Have you increased productivity or are we getting better?
Or are you getting sloppier?
Trevio said it is from this method that he has concluded law enforcement
agencies are barely keeping up.
Still, the commander acknowledged that there are problems with his method.
The problem with integrating statistics with interviews is that bad guys often
lie, Trevio said.
Just as federal agents are reluctant to share intelligence information with
traffickers, drug smugglers often will misinform agents so that their cohorts
can continue to operate.
But Trevio said drug statistics arent totally useless. While many variables
figure into the equation, he said statistics could be used to justify new
initiatives because it provides an estimate on where drug traffic activity is
You have to have something to stand on, he said. Its better than nothing.