05/01/2006

Texas Border Patrol chief calls Operation Linebacker 'critical'

Copyright 2006 The Brownsville Herald

By SARA INES CALDERON
The Brownsville Herald 

EDINBURG, Texas — The Border Patrol is the top dog when it comes to law enforcement at the border, said Lynn Underdown, chief patrol agent of the Rio Grande Valley Sector.

But, that doesn't mean that they can do it alone.

"The Border Patrol is the primary law enforcement agency on the border," Underdown said. "That has not changed. That will not change."

However, relationships with local law enforcement agencies, particularly border sheriffs in light of money received through Operation Linebacker, are important to the patrol's success.

"These relationships are absolutely critical to us," she said. "They were before Operation Linebacker, and they will be afterwards."

Operation Linebacker is part of a state initiative designed to give sheriffs departments along the border with Mexico more resources to better manage security. Cameron County is part of the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition, which proposed Operation Linebacker, and has received $1.59 million since December 2005.

The money has been used to pay for additional manpower and equipment, Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio said in previous interviews. Additional resources for local law enforcement agencies leaves the door open for a stronger working relationship with the Border Patrol, Underdown said.

"They have an enhanced capability now because they have funding," she explained. "The more resources they have, the more opportunities we have to work together."

Before Linebacker funding, the patrol had an excellent working relationship with local law enforcement, Underdown said. The difference now is this relationship is more focused.

"We went from responding to emergencies together to now sharing intelligence and planning operations together," she said, adding that enhanced intelligence sharing since Linebacker has lead to six felony arrests in the last six months.

Underdown has been a sector chief since 1999. She began in Miami and has been chief in the Valley for a year. During that time, she has seen the patrol grow, and today, as that growth continues, local law enforcement agencies will be crucial to the agency's success.

"As we grow, they become very important force multipliers for us," she said of local law enforcement. "It's absolutely critical that we compliment each other and not duplicate each other's efforts."

Smugglers involved in federal crimes are often involved in local crimes as well, Underdown said, so cooperation between federal and local agencies is mutually beneficial.

In the case of sheriffs departments, one key way the agencies can compliment each other is the sheriffs' expertise with the local geography. While the patrol has special training to deal with smugglers, the sheriffs are often more familiar with roads leading away from the border. Combining agencies' efforts means the entire community will be safer, Underdown said.

"The more we work together to keep these people off the street, the more everyone benefits," she said.

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