RIO GRANDE CITY, RGV – Starr County residents who complain that their quality of life has been negatively impacted by the increased presence of DPS troopers may have to get used to it.

Speaking on Ron Whitlock Reports, at a taping held in Rio Grande City, DPS Captain Hank Sibley said the increase in troopers is being made permanent.

“We are going to have a permanent increase here. We are going to essentially triple our trooper force here, of Starr County troopers stationed in Starr County full-time,” Sibley said.

(Editor’s Note: Click here to watch the Ron Whitlock show in full on You Tube)

Sibley said a “new dynamic” will be at play however. Rather than DPS troopers from around the state being rotated into the area for a week at a time, the Rio Grande Valley will see troopers permanently stationed in the region. Most of the deployments thus far have been in Starr County and western Hidalgo County because, DPS argues, most of the human and drug smuggling coming from across the Rio Grande occurs there.

Sibley was on the Whitlock show with Starr County Judge Eloy Vera. Vera said residents in the county feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of DPS troopers. Sibley used words like “saturation” to explain the presence of his agency in Starr County but said he feels sure that in time, local residents will come to appreciate the presence of DPS.

“I think we are in a situation where it is just the sheer volume of what is coming in the county. It is going to end up a positive for Starr County, I think, because it is going to make it less welcoming for the criminal element and more safer and more secure for the law-abiding citizens here,” Sibley said.

“I think once the incidents stop and things go back to the new norm, and there will be a new norm, it won’t ever be like it was, we do not want it to be like it was, in all aspects. But, once it calms down a little bit I think it is going to be a positive overall for the county and help in both the economic and the population growth.”

DPS Director Steve McCraw
DPS Director Steve McCraw

In his remarks, Vera said he personally has been pulled over by DPS seven times. He said it was “frustrating.” Vera said whenever he goes into HEB or Walmart people stop him to complain about DPS’s presence. He said everyone living on the border wants security and that he fully supports border security and acknowledges that DPS troopers are very professional in their dealings with the public. However, he said, things can go from one extreme to the other.

“One of the things I get hit with, every time I go to HEB, Walmart, wherever I go, by our constituents is… the number of troopers that are in our community. It seems like you can’t travel a quarter of a mile without coming to one or two units parked on the side of the road or traveling U.S. 83. The other thing I get hit with is the number of stops that they make,” Vera said.

“I also feel Starr County, being part of this great state of Texas, is being singled out and treated differently than the rest of the State of Texas. That is what bothers me and some of our constituents. Just the mere fact that the rest of the state has decreased the rest of their citations by over 50 percent, why has Starr County increased by over 230 percent? I think that is a tremendous red flag. That is all we are asking for, that Starr County be treated the same.”

Sibley responded that, as DPS settles in and residents take care of any equipment violations on their vehicles, there will be less traffic violations and less traffic stops.

“The troopers down here follow the same enforcement guidelines here as they do anywhere else in the state. That is mandated by the Texas Highway Patrol chief and the director. The Colonel is adamant about our troopers being professional,” Sibley said. “We hold our people accountable and we expect them to treat everybody professionally, regardless of your status here, whether you are here legally or illegally. Take the appropriate enforcement action and treat people with respect.”

Vera reiterated his point about residents being anxious about the heavy presence of DPS troopers and said he hoped Sibley could relay this message to DPS Director Steve McCraw: “Our people feel like they are being treated differently than the rest of the state because of the number of troopers that are down here. Of course, the more troopers that are down here, the more citations we are going to get and that is understandable. But how can we address that so that we… even if we are 10, 20 percent, 50 percent higher than the rest of the state, we can live with that. But, 233 percent higher, I think that is outrageous. We have too many troopers.”

Vera made a suggestion. Why couldn’t DPS place in Starr County a “special task force that deals with border issues, drug and human smuggling” rather than having a huge number of troopers essentially doing traffic control.

Sibley said it stands to reason that the number of citations in other parts of the state would drop if more troopers were being sent to the Valley. He said this was being addressed by an increase in the statewide size of the force. He said he would like to know the “warnings to tickets” ratio in Starr County, as compared to other parts of the state.

Sibley added that DPS is the uniformed state police force statewide and that it responds to natural disasters such as hurricanes. “We had a human hurricane of people that we responded to, essentially,” Sibley said, referring to the spike in undocumented children and women coming from Central America last summer.

DPS Director McCraw spoke about his agency’s policies on the border when giving the keynote speech at Thursday’s Texas Border Coalition annual meeting in Laredo. Afterwards, speaking to reporters, McCraw dismissed claims that DPS troopers were harassing Valley residents.

“That’s garbage, that’s the bottom line,” McCraw said. “Anybody has a complaint about how a trooper has treated them at any given time, we want to know about it because we’ll certainly investigate it. If they’re treated without respect, we will address it case by case and we’ve got the video to prove it.”

La Unión del Pueblo Entero unhappy with DPS in Rio Grande Valley

La Unión del Pueblo Entero spokesman John-Michael Torres.
La Unión del Pueblo Entero spokesman John-Michael Torres.

Much of the criticism of DPS’s tactics in the Valley has come from La Unión del Pueblo Entero, a colonia community group based in Hidalgo County. LUPE’s spokesman, John-Michael Torres, issued this statement in response to McCraw’s visit to Laredo:

“Police agencies should be accountable to the communities they serve. DPS continues to dismiss community concerns over the impact the ‘border surge’ is having on daily life in the western Valley. Many community members feel intimidated by the flood of DPS troopers, and with good reason. By DPS’s own numbers, there has been a 127 percent increase in the rate of citations for Hispanics in Starr County.

“When the border surge was concentrated in Hidalgo County, LUPE received six reports in a span of one month from community members being stopped for traffic violations by DPS officers, who community members report asked about citizenship or immigration status, called Border Patrol, or threatened to call Border Patrol.

“As recent as last month, the Houston Chronicle reported on a scenario where a DPS agent was patrolling the border and seemingly attempted to detain a group of migrants. DPS can regularly be seen with Border Patrol close at hand.

“The effect of all of this is a major change in the lives of many Starr County and western Valley residents. Our members in Starr County have said the ‘surge’ has changed their lives. You don’t go out, they tell us, except when you have to, to go to work or to buy groceries. Anything non-essential–the things that make life more enjoyable and boost the local economy – they decide not to do them, opting to stay home rather than risk traffic fines or immigration checks.”

“While they may not have the authority to determine someone’s immigration status, what they are doing sends the message to the community that they are enthusiastically involved in immigration enforcement.

“If DPS truly wants to address the concerns of the community members who feel intimidated by the flood of DPS troopers, they will meet with the community to listen to concerns, they will explain to Hispanic community members why there has been such a drastic increase in citations over the past five years, they will train their officers on how to interact with members of the community that may not have documents, and they will release clear guidelines on how DPS agents will not put community members at risk of deportation.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Ron Whitlock, presenter of Ron Whitlock Reports, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, and DPS Captain Hank Sibley. The show was taped in Rio Grande City.