EDINBURG, RGV – Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra can give a perfect example of why the $2.4 million Texas Transnational Intelligence Center needs to be built in the Rio Grande Valley – Santos ‘Cuate’ Cortez Hernandez.
The suspected drug cartel operative was wanted by various law enforcement agencies in the Valley but for different reasons. It was only when the agencies share their intelligence that they were able to find him.
“Santos Cortez Hernandez was involved in various criminal activities, human smuggling, narcotics and home invasions. He had a prostitution ring, He had auto theft ring. Most of this was concentrated on the western side of Hidalgo County. However his ring was stealing vehicles throughout the county,” Guerra recalled.
“The cities of McAllen and City of Edinburg were looking for him for auto theft. We were looking for him on a capital murder warrant. We had him on auto thefts and some burglaries. We knew he was connected to some burglaries out in the McCook area.”
Cortez Hernandez came from Diaz Ordaz, Mexico, but was living north of Palmview in Hidalgo County. Sharing intelligence on him made perfect sense, Guerra said.
“We brought all of these cities that were affected by his organization together and we shared the intel. We asked our federal partners, our state partners and our local partners to join us and started exchanging information on this individual. We all had a piece of the puzzle and we were able to put it all together and ultimately we were able to catch him,” Guerra said.
“He was pretty elusive. The City of Edinburg had him on an auto theft and the investigators there had a lot more information than we had. So we used the information we had and the information they had and it opened up a lot of leads for us.”
Hernandez Cortez was killed by police officers last April. Guerra explained how it happened. “We knew he was based in the western part of Hidalgo, just north of Palmview. We knew the vehicle he was driving. Some units went by and saw the vehicle. They approached an individual who was supposed to be a lookout for him. They talked to him and he said yes, he’s inside. They knocked on the door and he chose what he did to have our officers fire upon him. He had made some comments that he was not going to be taken. Our officers had to use deadly force.”
Guerra said he is hoping for similar successes when the Texas Transnational Intelligence Center is built. The center was approved as part of a major border security bill passed this past legislative session.
“The legislation says the Texas Transnational Intelligence Center has to be in the city of McAllen. We are already in discussions with the chief and the mayor about this,” Guerra said, referring to McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.
Guerra said the TTIC will act as a “central repository of real-time information” relating to criminal activity in counties along the Texas-Mexico border.
“We intend to tie in all of our records management systems, from all the cities we use. We will bring in all of our jail information, and then we will have our state partners and our federal partners collaborating together in one center. We will have a communications center where we will be able to get out this information, hopefully 24/7. It really helps the smaller police departments that cannot necessarily afford an intelligence analyst.”
Guerra pointed out that the language of the bill requires DPS to assist Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office and McAllen Police Department in the establishment and operation of the center. He said the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Parks and Wildlife Department will also report information to the center “related to criminal activity along the border, including information on kidnappings, home invasions, and incidents of impersonation of law enforcement officers.” The bill requires the information in the center to be made available to each law enforcement agency in Texas and to TABC and TPWD.
“We hope to offer all the agencies real time information about what is going on in Hidalgo County. It will be a center where all our law enforcement partners can send information and get information about border security issues,” Guerra said. “I have reached out DPS Director Steve McCraw and Police Chief Rodriguez. I have made my rounds through the county talking to some of the police chiefs.”
Asked how the idea for a regional intelligence center for law enforcement came about, Guerra said: “I waited for the new (Hidalgo County) DA (Ricardo Rodriguez) to take office and I brought in the chiefs of police for the five largest cities in Hidalgo County. The topic was how can we all collaborate together to solve crime, not just violent crime. How do we become more effective? That was the result of those meetings. We agreed we should all be sharing our intelligence. It was not happening before.”
Guerra said his job is to ensure that the people who reside in Hidalgo County feel safe and secure. “We need to make sure this county prospers. That is my main job. As a sheriff it is my job to bring all these agencies together. If you look at the dynamics of Hidalgo County we have 21 municipalities within Hidalgo County. Cameron County, I believe they have about 15 local agencies. We have a lot of the bigger federal agencies, such as Border Patrol, housed in Hidalgo County. Most of the agencies were not collaborating. It is very common in law enforcement to horde your information. We broke down those barriers. We are all about solving crime. We all have the same battle to do. We just have different wars.”
Guerra added that the Texas Transnational Intelligence Center ties in with the concept of regionalization.
“It is all about regionalizing law enforcement in Hidalgo County. Hopefully, this Center will help us do that. Quite frankly, as we mentioned when we had these meetings, all of our constituents, all the citizens in Hidalgo County deserve this. They deserve all of law enforcement working together, solving crime, and making it safer.”