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20110930_WEB_ProgressTimes_015Partnership to curb drug trafficking, develop trust in La Joya

LA JOYA — The U.S. Border Patrol partnered with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, La Joya Police Department and the City of La Joya on Tuesday to develop a permanent presence in the city.

They set up camp in front of soccer fields at Garza Avenue and Military Highway. Their presence, they said, will not only help law enforcement respond faster to activity in the area, but it will develop a relationship with the communities of La Joya, Peñitas, Sullivan City and Havana, among other communities.

“I believe by working cohesively, we can make a difference in improving and ensuring a safer and more secure environment for our community,” said La Joya Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas.

State Rep. Sergio Muñoz agreed and said the law enforcement present could help the community feel comfortable and safe.

Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño and Chief Patrol Agent Rosendo Hinojosa said the goal of the program is to develop the trust of the community and build relationships.

“We are re-establishing a communication with the folks on the street, with the people at home, which in turn is going to not only increase, but solidify, the public confidence in our policing agencies,” said Treviño.

Hinojosa said the citizens of Madero, where the project first started, has seen the relationship between law enforcement and the community grow.

“Success is built on relationships. No matter where it’s at, it’s all based on trust,” Hinojosa said. “If the community members don’t trust us, or any other law enforcement agency, we’re not going to get the cooperation that we need.”

The Border Patrol is partnering with other cities in the Rio Grande Valley as well, including Roma, Brownsville, Harlingen and San Isidro.

The agencies are focused and committed to making the location in La Joya work for the community. Treviño and Hinojosa said they want the community to know that this is a permanent location.

“This is not an overnight job,” said Treviño.

By combining their efforts, there will be more officers on the ground who could exchange real-time information. They will be able to “work together and show a solid unified force,” said Treviño.

Hinojosa said this area is one of the main reasons he wanted the horse patrol that was recently installed in the Valley. The horses have stealth, are quiet and quick, said Hinojosa. They will be able to get into the tough terrain areas easier.

It isn’t the people of La Joya that are the problem here, Treviño said.

“The problem is the people that are invading La Joya; that’s where the problem’s at,” said Treviño. “We’re going to take this area back from the smugglers and we’ll make this community a much safer community.”

In fact, that very morning, the Border Patrol seized more than 3,300 pounds of marijuana two to three miles away from the substation.

Hinojosa said the number of apprehensions and amount of drugs seized has gone down, but admitted, “I don’t think we are being as successful as we need to be.”

In 2010, there were 7,600 apprehensions where 4,500 people were returned to their country of origin. Nearly 88,000 pounds of marijuana and more than 100 pounds of cocaine were seized in 2010. This fiscal year, which ends today and does not reflect September numbers, agents have apprehended more than 3,000 people, seized 36,000 pounds of marijuana and about the same amount of cocaine. The Rio Grande Valley sector apprehended nearly 60,000 individuals last year.

“This is your community and it’s time that we send a signal to the people that are operating either a stash house or using the streets as a corridor to recover narcotics or aliens, that enough is enough,” said Hinojosa. “At some point in our life we have to say enough is enough. And I think for La Joya, that day is today.”

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