January 27, 2009
The border camera boondoggle blues

Your tax dollars at work, courtesy of Governor Perry.

A virtual border surveillance program Gov. Rick Perry has committed millions of taxpayer dollars to fell far short of expectations during the first six months of operation.

Border sheriffs, who Perry gave $2 million to line the Texas-Mexico border with hundreds of Web cameras, installed only about a dozen and made just a handful of apprehensions as a result of tips from online viewers.

Reports obtained by the El Paso Times under the Texas Public Information Act show that the cameras produced a fraction of the objectives Perry outlined.

Perry's office acknowledged the reported results were a far from the expectations but said the problem was with the yardstick used to measure the outcome and not with the camera program.

"The progress reports need to be adjusted to come in line with the strategy," said Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger.

How about aligning it to the cost of implementation? Crazy idea, I know.

In the first six months of the grant period, the coalition spent $625,000 to get the cameras running.

The Web site went public Nov. 19, and in the first month saw nearly 2 million hits.

All those hits didn't translate into much law enforcement work, though, according to a six-month progress report required for the grant.

The report describes both the objectives for the program during the first year of the grant and how much progress was made in achieving those goals.

The coalition's goal was to make 1,200 arrests as a result of tips from the online cameras in the first year of the project.

They made three arrests in the first six months, according to the progress report.

Of some 4,500 suspected immigration violations they expected to report to U.S. Border Patrol in the year, the first six months produced six.

The report also showed the group installed just 13 of 200 cameras it planned to install this year.

Boy, that makes it almost as effective as the high school steroid testing program. Which was declared a success by its boosters, by the way. Gotta love that alignment of progress and strategy.

As the story notes, Perry has had a long fascination with the idea of border cameras and an army of online border-camera-watchers. The fact that the first, smaller-scale version of this was about as effective hasn't cooled his ardor for them.

Some lawmakers panned the program as ineffective, and in 2007 legislators denied Perry's request to fund more cameras and resume the online offensive.

Last year, though, Perry secured $2 million in federal grant money to get the cameras online.

But when his office sought a vendor, none would do the job for that price.

So Perry turned to the border sheriffs, a group he had previously given tens of millions for border security operations.

The sheriffs contracted with a social-networking company called Blueservo to set up the cameras and the Web site.

Once enough users sign up, the company says it plans to sell advertising on the site to generate a profit and pay for the border camera effort.

Cesinger said Perry is committed to the camera program because it uses technology to help secure the border, a mission the federal government has failed to accomplish.

"It's utilizing technology so you don't have to pay for an extra set of eyes," she said.

You know, I'm thinking that for two million bucks you could probably get more than one extra set of eyes, and that you'd get a lot more results from them as well. I know, I know, that's crazy talk. But at least it's not as crazy as the idea that you could pay for these cameras in perpetuity with advertising revenue from a border camera social networking scheme. Seriously, who thinks this stuff up? I hope this program meets the same fate as its predecessor.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 27, 2009 to National news
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