HIDALGO COUNTY, TEXAS — In Part One of our exclusive report on crime statistics in Hidalgo County, Texas, we saw shocking hidden-camera video as a crime analyst admitted downgrading crimes on the sheriff’s orders. In Part Two, we heard from a whistle-blowing deputy, who described the political pressure within the department to downgrade crimes, and even to stop fighting crime altogether. The deputy described supervisors pressuring subordinates even to refrain from setting up routine traffic stops so they will not discover more serious crimes to report. The hidden-camera video and the deputy’s testimony paint a picture of a county that is systematically being lied to so that a sheriff can get re-elected , the federal funds can keep rolling in, and the federal government can claim that this border community is safer than ever.
But what does this mean to the people who live along the border?
Take the case of Reynaldo Zapata Hernandez. According to the official Progress Case Report that we have exclusively obtained, Hernandez, who had been involved in illegal drugs for years, was abducted on the Texas side of the U.S.-Mexico border on September 17, 2011. The report states that Hernandez was taken, along with his mother, by people who were posing as U.S. government agents. These agents convinced Hernandez to cross into Reynosa, Mexico, and then into the Mexican countryside, where he was then taken by unknown people who still remain at large. Hernandez’s mother returned to Texas.
Reynaldo Hernandez went missing, but on January 5, 2012, his family finally heard what had become of him: He had been found in Reynosa, beaten to death.
But on the day that Hernandez’s family learned of Reynaldo’s death, the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office reclassified his murder. It was no longer treated as a kidnapping and murder, but was downgraded to a “welfare concern.”
Let’s hear again from the crime analyst in the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.
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.
The analyst describes making unjustified changes to the crime-reporting codes. The whistle-blowing deputy says that politics are behind the changes.
He says that deputies are discouraged from proactively fighting crime so that overall crime stats in Hidalgo County look better.
The sheriff’s office contends that Hernandez’s murder was downgraded because Hernandez voluntarily crossed the border with his captors. However, according to the case file, he was picked up, transported, and forced across the border, where he was later taken by force and killed by unknown assailants. The crime played out like a classic drug cartel kidnapping and murder. Statistically, though, his death was no more than a “welfare concern.”
The outcome: Hidalgo County reports one less cross-border cartel-related kidnapping and murder. Sheriff Lupe Treviño campaigns on reducing crime in his county during his eight years in office. Washington declares the border “better now than it has ever been.” Sheriff Treviño says he needs even more federal money to keep crime at bay: “That’s why we need the continued influx of federal funds.”
From the perspective of the sheriff who gets re-elected, and the administration that can use the “cooked” stats to make the border appear safe, everybody wins. That’s true as long as you don’t count the law-abiding people who live along the border and do not feel safe, the U.S. taxpayer whose money gets wasted not fighting crime, and the victims of the crimes that either get downgraded or are never even reported at all.
Watch the PJTV report here.