Hutchison Wants More Money for Border Cops

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison wants Congress to give border-area police tens of millions of dollars to fight drug cartel-related crime and keep violence from Mexico's ongoing cartel war from spilling into the United States.
Hutchison, a Texas Republican who recently announced plans to run for governor against fellow Republican Gov. Rick Perry, asked Congress on Wednesday to authorize $100 million a year until 2013. The Department of Justice-administered program would allow law enforcement agencies to upgrade equipment, hire new officers and pay overtime and other costs.
A recent Associated Press review showed that millions of dollars in grant money administered by the state went to counties with virtually no crime. Several million dollars was initially divided equally among Texas's 16 border counties in 2005.
Critics have decried the spending as a misuse of public money.
Hutchison's plan, according to a spokesman, would funnel money to agencies across the country that show they need it most.
"By creating a targeted and competitive grant program, we are ensuring that taxpayer dollars are allocated to where they are needed most to reduce crime and secure the border," Hutchison spokesman Jeff Sadosky said.
Hutchison proposed dividing as much as $66 million a year among law enforcement agencies within 100 miles of the Mexican and Canadian borders, with the remainder going to police agencies in the interior of the country to combat "border-related criminal activity."
Katherine Cesinger, a spokesman for Perry, said the state would welcome federal help, but has heard financial pledges before that have not materialized.
"We have heard for years that Washington is on the verge of sending adequate resources to secure our border but that has yet to happen," Cesinger said. "Texas is eager for the federal government to fulfill its role in securing our international border but will continue to fill in the gaps with state resources until then."
Steve McCraw, Texas's director of homeland security, has defended Texas' spending as necessary to prevent crime. He insists that violent crime statistics do not provide a complete picture of border crime, including information on drug and human smuggling cases handled by local agencies.
"We're focused on the threat, based on vulnerability," McCraw told the Associated Press last week.
He has also said the state's crime data does not include drug and human smuggling offenses that may be handled by local authorities.
In a statement announcing the bill, Hutchison said the $500 million program was vital to ensure that the wave of violence overtaking some cities in Mexico in the last year doesn't cross the border.
"Our border law enforcement personnel are under assault," Hutchison said in the statement. "Powerful Mexican drug cartels threaten the safety of our communities and the law enforcement officials who protect us. This legislation is an important step toward securing our borders and preventing violence in Mexico from spreading into our country."
Violence from the ongoing drug cartel war, a struggle for power and control of lucrative human and drug smuggling routes, killed at least 1,600 people last year and more than 100 so far this year in Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso. It has yet to directly spill over into the United States, according to law enforcement officials.
But police in cities across the country, including Phoenix and Atlanta, have reported an increasing number of kidnappings and home invasions thought to be related to Mexican drug cartel cells.
Luis Samudio, a Phoenix police officer and department spokesman, said his city has seen a growing number of violent drug crimes. Any additional funding would be helpful, he said.
"Common sense would say ... it's a benefit for not only the department, but the community," Samudio said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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