District attorneys form coalition to share info

District attorneys representing the four counties of the Rio Grande Valley have banded together to form a coalition intended to foster relationships and facilitate cooperation between offices, according to the Cameron County District Attorney’s office.

District Attorney Luis V. Saenz announced the creation of the Rio Grande Valley District Attorney Coalition on Friday in Brownsville. Saenz will be joined by District Attorneys Ricardo Rodriguez of Hidalgo County, Omar Escobar Jr. of Starr County, and Annette Hinojosa of Willacy County.

The program “will build on the already strong relationships and communication that exists between the offices,” Cameron County DA’s Office spokeswoman Victoria Cisneros wrote in a press release Friday.

Saenz said his office regularly collaborates with other DAs, but that the move to formalize the relationships will make collaborating more constructive. “Everybody was really excited about it,” he said.

Photos from the coalition’s Feb. 27 inaugural meeting showed the four district attorneys gathered in the DA’s office in Brownsville, taking notes and discussing various initiatives.

Saenz said the coalition discussed the ability to share resources and intelligence information, as well as efforts to host and assist with inter-county law enforcement training. Additionally, he said the counties plan to collaborate on seasonal initiatives like holiday DWI campaigns while also representing the Valley in a united front on legislative matters.

DA Saenz will serve as chairman, with Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez has been appointed vice-chairman. Saenz, who proposed the idea to the other DAs in December, explained that the cooperation will facilitate joint training sessions and the sharing of technology in ways that can assist prosecutors while also conserving counties’ resources.

“For example — I’ll put on a training and it will cost me a couple thousand dollars. Mr. Rodriguez in Hidalgo will put on a training and it will cost several thousand dollars. The coalition can cooperate and collaborate with each other on areas of training.”

Saenz said that the move to form the coalition will assist prosecutors with intelligence, as many Valley crimes occur between counties. “For the bad guys, there is no such thing as Cameron County, Hidalgo County boundaries. In fact, we’ve had numerous cases where the case starts in Hidalgo County and the murder happens in Hidalgo County, but the body is found over here.”

Another way the group will collaborate is to present a unified Valley voice on legislative issues that impact community members, according to Saenz.

“If I go by myself to Austin, I’m one of many hands going up. If we go as a RGV DA Coalition — four of us — OK, now it’s four hands reaching up and we’ll get their attention,” he said. “This is a more united and louder message that we’re trying to send, for the betterment of our people.”

This would give the officials the ability to prosecute crimes that currently fall through the cracks, according to Saenz. “One of those crimes is where new construction sites are stripped of copper. Copper is very valuable,” he said.

Other issues the DA said he’d like to address include legislation requiring pawn shops to check receipts from sellers before they buy an item, or the ability to prosecute contractors who take money from clients and never complete the work.

“People literally give thousands of dollars to a contractor who promises to do this and that, and lo and behold he takes off. As the law is written right now, it is very difficult for us to make it a criminal matter,” said Saenz.