Tech Study Targets Border Violence, Training

SOCORRO, N.M. December 15, 2010 – The killing of a Border Patrol field agent Tuesday is a tragic reminder that American law enforcement officers are increasing in peril as they combat border-area violence, said David Williams, Director of the Border Security Center at New Mexico Tech.

The Border Security Center was formed earlier in 2010 to first conduct an assessment of training needs of Tribal, state, local enforcement officers in the Southwest, and then to offer law enforcement training courses, which will begin in 2011. Williams said violence related to organized crime is escalating in border regions and the recent killing is an unfortunate confirmation of the Center’s initial assessment.

Dave Williams, director of the Border Security Center at New Mexico Tech, was a speaker at a recent Bureau of Justice Assistance conference.

Four suspects were arrested Wednesday after U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry was shot and killed about 10 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. A statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection said, “Agent Terry’s murder is a tragic reminder of the ever-present dangers U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, Air & Marine and Border Patrol agents face as they protect our nation’s borders.”

According to a report on CNN.com, FBI Special Agent Manuel J. Johnson said agents were patrolling a very remote and rugged area just north of the border town of Nogales Tuesday night when they encountered several armed individuals. Initial information shows there was an exchange of gunfire, he said.

Williams said law enforcement officers like Terry face increasingly violent situations as they patrol. Training programs under development at New Mexico Tech will help those on the front lines. He recently presented details about Tech’s training and research capabilities at a premiere nationwide conference.

New Mexico Tech has a decade of experience training the nation’s first responders in responding to terrorist attacks. Through several Department of Homeland Security-sponsored classes, law enforcement officers from every state have attended classes and demonstrations in Socorro and Playas, N.M., in order to prepare themselves for potential terrorist attacks.

“We have proven that we have exceptional training capabilities,” Williams said. “New Mexico Tech is the nation’s leading training destination for police officers and firefighters. Now, we are expanding our offerings to include a curriculum specific to border security work. The U.S.-Mexico border area is increasingly becoming violent. Collectively, we need to be prepared for the tactics employed by the Mexican drug cartels.”

Williams was invited to speak at the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance Annual Conference, which was December 6 to 8 in Washington, D.C.

More than 1,000 key criminal justice officials attended the conference. Featured speakers included Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

“This conference was especially beneficial because we were able to communicate to a broad spectrum of potential training recipients,” Williams said. “I received a lot of positive feedback. People were asking us, ‘When are we going to start?’ and ‘How do they get into the class?’ ”

Williams spoke on threats from Mexican drug trafficking organizations operating in the Southwest and the need for accelerated training to counter Mexican cartel violence. Last year a New Mexico Tech team won a competitive grant for $994,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice for the Southern Border Training and Technical Assistance Project.

Williams reported at the conference on research by the Border Security Center conducted in Colombia, Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Williams and his colleagues from the Center focused their presentation on the outbreak of cartel murders and kidnappings in San Diego during the past three years and the spike in kidnappings and home invasions in the Phoenix area. They also discussed tactics used in attacks on Mexican law enforcement officers in border cities. The research also indicated that cross-border kidnappings and extortion of relatives and friends in the United States for people held in Mexico were significantly under reported crimes in all areas of the Southwest including New Mexico.

Williams said the New Mexico Tech contingent successful showed that they’ve made significant progress with their initial assessment about anti-crime needs – the most important of which is making front-line officers and their supervisors aware of the dangers. He said that the successful presentation will help in securing future funding to expand the program.

Emerging threats identified in the project include kidnapping, extortion and potential paramilitary attacks on law enforcement officers. Williams’ research has identified “lessons learned” from successful programs such as the Colombian Police anti-kidnapping program which has cut kidnapping by over 90 percent in the last 10 years.

Williams also presented the recently completed report, “Training Needs Assessment for Targeted Criminal Activity on the Southwest Border,” which surveyed 125 officials from 42 tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies along the Southwest border. Results of the assessment identified deficiencies in existing training which urgently needed to be addressed.

Williams also used the conference as an opportunity to promote two new training sessions. New Mexico Tech’s Border Security Center will commence a special pilot session of the first course, a four-hour awareness class, “Surviving the Mexican Drug Cartels.” The class will be hosted by the Albuquerque Police Department and presented by the Border Security Center. The training will be repeated at law enforcement agencies throughout the border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

“Our classes will make officers much more conscience of the potential for extreme violence when they encounter drug cartel soldiers,” Williams said. “We will arm them with the tools to recognize the indicators that they aren’t making a normal, high-risk felony stop, that the person they’re stopping may have an automatic weapon or a hand grenade and may be trained in paramilitary tactics.”

The Center will also kick off a new four-day practical application course, “Countering Mexican Cartel Violence in the Southwest,” commencing in March 2011 at Tech’s Playas Training and Research Center.  All costs for the training, including participants’ travel, will be paid by the Bureau of Justice Assistance grant.


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By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech