Border sheriffs: we can do more for less

Chance Nettles

Ever since the comptroller’s bleak revenue estimate in January, state agencies have been anticipating major cuts. Now that the dust has finally settled, it’s apparent the legislature won’t be touching the unprecedented 800 million dollar war chest handed to Department of Public Safety border security in the 84th Legislative session.

Unfortunately, this large figure hasn’t changed since, maintaining an inefficient consolidation of resources at the state level. Local law enforcement is better suited to allay border concerns more effectively than DPS, while also being more efficient.

In small-government Texas, this 800 million dollar plan seems to be an exception from traditional fiscal conservative dogma.

"There’s a lot of ways that the state of Texas can ‘cut the fat’, so to speak, by utilizing local peace officers instead of sending troopers from all over the state,” Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra said.

One glance at the DPS salary schedule and it’s easy to see that these state troopers aren’t cheap. Sheriff Guerra argues that local law enforcement are a better investment because they don’t have to spend the night in hotels or get paid per diem.  

Sheriff Guerra’s views are widely shared in local border communities.

"I can hire two deputies for the price of one state trooper,” says Sheriff Ronny Dodson of Brewster County. “Throwing tons of highway patrolmen at the border is definitely not our answer.”

Even more, these sheriffs often have access to intelligence from the community that’s simply not available to larger state agencies. This benefit stems from hiring personnel willing to make the long-term investment necessary to build trust with the local community.

The Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition has been vocal about their position on this issue but their efforts to affect change in Austin have proven to be futile. This session, the coalition put forth a 25 million dollar legislative proposal that would’ve supplied 151 deputies and as well as much needed support personnel across 20 counties along the border.

The succinct document puts it plainly: “With a smaller bureaucracy, sheriffs can hire, train, and place people on the street quicker than a larger agency.” This amount might seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the staggering amount given to DPS. However, a similar proposal last session went largely ignored by lawmakers in Austin.

"It’s become clear that state government isn’t interested in funding local resources,” says Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez of Val Verde County. Sheriff Martinez is the chairman of the larger Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition (SWBSC), which also  includes border counties in Arizona and California.

In a state that constitutionally mandates a balanced budget, funding cuts are an expected reality of diminished revenue. While the legislature is quick to be frugal with other essential programs, the critical gaze of conservative budget writers shouldn’t overlook spending on border security in the pursuit of fiscal responsibility­­.

Nettles is a Public Health junior from Austin.