The Border Conspiracy: Exclusive Videos Show How One Texas County Fakes Crime Statistics to Make the Border Look Safe
August 20, 2012 - 12:00 am
Watch: Crime analyst admits that crime stats in the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office are manipulated.
HIDALGO COUNTY, TEXAS — PJ Media has obtained exclusive hidden camera video that shows federal grant money creates an incentive for local law enforcement to falsify their crime statistics. The fake stats tell a story that ends up benefiting the local agencies that clamor for the grants, while helping Washington sell its story that the border is safer than it really is.
Every year, the federal government doles out roughly a billion taxpayer dollars to local law enforcement agencies in the form of grants. These agencies — city police and constables, state agencies, county sheriffs — apply for the grants through the Department of Justice’s COPS (for Community Oriented Policing Services) program and use them to hire more personnel, purchase vehicles and equipment, and enhance their crime-fighting capabilities.
But do the federal grants actually help fight crime?
Local law enforcement agencies insist that the grant money is vital to fighting crime and even to their departments’ survival. But is there a dark side to federalizing local law enforcement funding?
Case in point: Hidalgo County, Texas. This border county is home to McAllen, one of the fastest-growing cities in the entire United States. Hidalgo County boasts the most border crossings of any county along the Texas-Mexico border. Property values are rising here despite the stagnant U.S. economy. The county is home both to gang-infested barrios and to a posh neighborhood that boasts fountains, manicured lawns, beautiful new custom homes, and many cars bearing Mexican license plates.
Hidalgo County sits across the border from Reynosa, Mexico, one of the most violent and troubled cities in the Mexican drug wars. But according to some local officials, Mexico’s drug war has not spilled over into their bustling Texas community. They say this even though U.S. forces engaged drug cartel members in a firefight at Chimney Park in Hidalgo County in 2011.
Hidalgo County elected Democrat Guadalupe “Lupe” Treviño sheriff in 2004 and then re-elected him in 2008, and this spring he reportedly spent more than a half a million dollars to clinch the Democratic nomination for a third term as the county’s sheriff. In this heavily Democratic county, Treviño is a cinch to win that third term. The former Austin police officer claims that Hidalgo County has seen a dramatic reduction of violent crime during his tenure. Sheriff Treviño dismisses the presence and influence of drug cartels in his border county. To hear Sheriff Treviño talk, domestic violence may be a bigger issue in Hidalgo County. But as a local news story that was published August 10, 2012, shows, many residents of Hidalgo County do not feel safe and do not believe that crime is down at all. They also do not believe that Sheriff Treviño’s office is concerned about them.
The federal government has granted Hidalgo County about $6 million to fight crime since 2004. That money has gone to the county’s anti-narcotics efforts and has funded the purchase of sophisticated video surveillance towers that are supposed to be used to monitor the border and watch over troubled neighborhoods. One grant operation, called Stonegarden, has enabled the county to purchase several vehicles and video sky towers, which some residents allege have been used for non-police and even political purposes when they’re not being used to prevent crimes.
The federal money is granted for the purpose of fighting crime, and the government monitors crime statistics via the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Local law enforcement agencies report trends in crime in their communities through the NIBRS, and the NIBRS stats find their way into speeches and comments made by politicians to show that the money is being spent well and that crime is being defeated. According to the Department of Justice’s Uniform Crime Reporting handbook (revised 2004):
The culmination of this national data collection effort is three annual publications: Crime in the United States, Hate Crime Statistics, and Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, all of which have become sources of data widely used by law enforcement administrators, government policy makers, social science researchers, the media, and private citizens. Additionally, UCR data are often considered by the federal government in administering law enforcement grants.
In May of 2011, President Obama went to the border at El Paso, Texas, and in his “alligators and moats” speech claimed the border is safe and mocked calls for more border security.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Maybe they’ll say we need a moat. Or alligators in the moat.
They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics.
But the truth is, the measures we’ve put in place are getting results. Over the past two and a half years, we’ve seized 31 percent more drugs, 75 percent more currency, and 64 percent more weapons than before. Even as we’ve stepped up patrols, apprehensions along the border have been cut by nearly 40 percent from two years ago – that means far fewer people are attempting to cross the border illegally
Also, despite a lot of breathless reports that have tagged places like El Paso as dangerous, violent crime in southwest border counties has dropped by a third. El Paso and other cities and towns along the border are consistently rated among the safest in the nation.
In March of 2011, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, “There is a perception that the border is worse now than it ever has been. That is wrong. The border is better now than it ever has been.” Napolitano went on to say that violence from Mexico’s drug war has not spilled over into the U.S., citing statistics that show crime along the border has either stayed flat or even gone down. Napolitano has visited the border several times to hail the cooperation between local and federal authorities and has visited Hidalgo County, where her friend Lupe Treviño is the sheriff.
During Napolitano’s visit in February 2012, Sheriff Treviño noted: “We tell the truth and say violent crime is down and cartel violence has been kept south of the river, but we get criticized because we say we need money. If we’re going to continue to lower the violent crime rate, we have to have a sustained maintenance. That’s why we need the continued influx of federal funds.”
But how accurate are the statistics that the local law enforcement agencies send their states and ultimately to the federal government? PJM/PJTV has obtained exclusive hidden camera video from inside the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office. In this video, a crime analyst – the person responsible for entering official data into the Uniform Crime Reporting system from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office – admits that the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office manipulates its crime statistics systematically.
Deputy: Hey what’s up? (unintelligible question)
Analyst: No, I can do it for you.
Deputy: Cool. (unintelligible, but he asks about changing a code)
Analyst: I guess. Cause he’s the one changing everything.
Deputy: Changing the stats?
Analyst: (nods) He’s the one…
Deputy: Well how is he changing them?
Analyst: He reads the reports and fiddles with you if it’s not linking. Like, with a robbery, he redrizzles it down to a simple, like an, if it’s like uh, aggravated assault (looks away to see if anyone can hear), he orders a downgrade to assault. Or if…
Deputy: It’s real simple to do because most people are gonna, think you’re gonna have more.
(Analyst tilts head skeptically)
Deputy: You can justify it both ways.
Analyst: Yeah, but some of them, no. (crosstalk) Like, as far as the standards go, from the UCR, yeah.
Deputy: So. You can get in trouble.
Deputy: You can get in trouble?
Analyst: Not us, but…yeah the sheriff.
Deputy: Him (points in the direction of the sheriff’s office).
Analyst: Yeah. Not me.
According to the Department of Justice’s Uniform Crime Reporting handbook (revised 2004):
The completeness and accuracy of each agency’s crime reporting is crucial to a wide variety of data users so that they can understand crime, formulate policies, make strategic and operational decisions, and conduct criminological research and analysis.
The federal crime reporting system relies on local law enforcement to accurately report the crimes taking place in their communities. But as we see on hidden camera video from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, the federal crime statistics system is being manipulated in at least one strategic county that sits directly across the Rio Grande from Mexico’s drug war.
In Part Two of our Border Conspiracy report, we will hear from a Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputy. This deputy will blow the whistle on how Sheriff Lupe Treviño’s department has changed the way crime is fought, and reported, in Hidalgo County.
Watch the PJTV version of this report here.