By Maggie Ybarra
El Paso Times
EL PASO — Texas border sheriffs said Tuesday that insufficient federal money is hindering their ability to fight against spillover violence from the drug wars raging in Mexico.
The sheriffs, all members of the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition and the Southwestern Border Sheriff's Coalition, and their deputies, gathered behind closed doors at the Camino Real Hotel to discuss shared problems and potential solutions to the increased difficulty of securing the border.
Don Reay, executive director for the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition, said spikes in violence along the border could be prevented by more financial support from the federal government.
Reay, a former federal agent and former national intelligence consultant, said most of the border sheriffs believe that the federal government is mishandling its money by funneling it to the M?rida Initiative, which pays for intelligence training and equipment for Mexico and parts of South America.
"Our concern was that there were no controls on that money to make sure it goes toward what it's meant for ... and it was confirmed to us that there were no controls through a conference call we had with Department of Homeland Security and the state," Reay said.
Reay said the money could have been better spent on providing protection on the U.S. side of the border.
He estimates that during a two-year period, about $13 million has been allocated to sheriffs in 20 counties along the border. However, it would take an additional $7 million before each county would have the financial means to hire more law enforcement staffers, train them, and pay for their equipment, travel necessities and office supplies, Reay said.
"If we're going to err on our judgment in combating crime, we need to err on the side of security," he said.
Sheriff Arvin West, of Hudspeth County, said he recently urged residents of his county to provide their own security and arm themselves.
"I'd rather see them alive and protected or at least see them have the opportunity to be alive and protected," he said.
Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez of Zapata County said the stories people hear about increasing crime along the border are not being exaggerated.
"Be careful of the lull before the storm," he said.
The sheriffs are participating in a three-day conference that focuses on human smuggling, drug smuggling and funding to fight crime. The conference ends today.
Copyright 2010 El Paso Times, a MediaNews Group Newspaper