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Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition

How much would you pay for those border cameras?

Remember all those border cameras Rick Perry wanted to install so ordinary citizens in the comfort of their living rooms could help catch people entering the country illegally? How have they worked out?

Perry has invested a total of $4 million of federal grant money that he controls in the Texas Border Watch Program. Twenty-nine cameras have been installed on the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border, or one camera for every 41 miles of border. Internet viewers have helped police make a total of 26 arrests — that’s about $153,800 per arrest. And some border law agencies are not even using the cameras for police work.

Perry first gave the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition $2 million in 2008 to launch the border camera program. Progress reports from that year showed the program fell far short of nearly all its law enforcement goals, including arrests, cash forfeitures and immigration apprehensions. Only a fraction of the cameras Perry initially wanted had been installed, and the program had generated none of the self-sustaining advertising revenue called for in the camera contract.

In 2008, the cameras were expected to generate 1,200 arrests, $25,000 in cash forfeitures, 50,000 incident reports and 4,500 immigration referrals. Under the grant objectives, the coalition was supposed to install 200 cameras. Instead, that year 13 cameras generated three arrests, zero cash forfeitures, eight incident reports, and six immigration referrals.

And remember, Rick Perry thinks this program has been a success. Makes you wonder what he thinks a failure looks like. Stace has more.

Virtual border fence: Still a failure

Our Governor in action.

Gov. Rick Perry’s border Web camera program has run out of money, and in its first full year of operation failed to meet nearly every law enforcement goal.

Last year, Perry gave the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition a $2 million federal grant to install cameras along the U.S.-Mexico border and broadcast the footage live over the Internet. An internal report showed that a fraction of the 200 cameras Perry wanted on the border were installed, and that Internet border patrollers produced a handful of drug busts and a scattering of arrests.


Perry is seeking another $2 million to prop up the project that was supposed to become self-sustaining. After being shown a report that indicated the cameras fell far short of their goals, Perry’s staff produced a new, revised report that put the program in a more positive light.

The grant that financed the program has expired, and the sheriffs coalition says that without more funding, the cameras will go dark.

The first thing you need to know is that this was a federal grant that paid for those cameras. Darn that fascistic federal government and its dirty, dirty money! I mean, if we know one thing right now it’s that Republican governors just can’t handle temptation.

Original goals for the program were unrealistic, said sheriffs coalition executive director Don Reay. He said the cameras have been a success.

“We’re hoping there will be a new (grant) offered for next year,” he said.

In its first full year, the camera Web site drew more than 39 million hits and caught the attention of national and international media.
But interviews and reports the El Paso Times obtained indicate the nearly 125,000 “virtual Texas deputies” registered on the site led law enforcement to just eight drug busts and 11 arrests.


The sheriffs coalition was to install 200 cameras, but only 17 were up and running. That’s about one camera for every 70 miles of the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border.

The cameras were expected to generate 1,200 arrests. The sheriffs coalition reported 11.

Internet border watchers’ reports led to the referral of about 300 undocumented immigrants to U.S. Border Patrol officials. That was about 6 percent of the 4,500 referrals the program was expected to generate.

Reay explained the gap between the objectives and the results in this response on the report: “Original goals were not realistic. Problems encountered was an element of the press who did everything within their power to negate the problem (sic).”

Boy, if only being a naysayer granted the power to negate problems! I’d be, like, a superhero or something by now.

After questions about results in the year-end report and whether funding would be renewed for the cameras, Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger produced a different report.

The newly produced report showed objectives radically reduced from the original goals.

Instead of 200 cameras, it said the sheriffs coalition was expected to install only 15, making it appear as if the group exceeded its goals by installing 17 cameras.

The target number of arrests was revised downward from 1,200 to 25, much closer to the 11 arrests the sheriffs coalition actually made.

The original objectives, Cesinger said, were supposed to have been revised after a six-month progress report earlier this year showed the program was far from meeting its targets. There was some sort of “glitch” in the reporting process, she said.

If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards. That could be Rick Perry’s campaign slogan. I must note that they did tell us that they intended to define success down six months ago, so we can’t say we weren’t warned.

Despite the small number of arrests, the few cameras installed and the failure of the program to become self-sustaining, Cesinger said, Perry was convinced the program deterred crime and should be funded again.

“The bad guys know there are an extra pair eyes on the border,” she said.


University of Texas at El Paso anthropology Professor Josiah Heyman, a border expert, called the Texas Border Watch program “expensive and dumb.”

Seventeen cameras on the vast expanse of borderland between Mexico and Texas, he said, would do little to stop the illegal flow of drugs and people into the United States.

“The cameras out in open country are just completely a distraction from the elephant in the room,” Heyman said.

Most contraband that enters the country, he said, comes through the ports of entry. The backpacks and Hummers full of drugs that come through the brush country between the ports are small potatoes compared with the semi-trucks and train cars loaded down with drugs and people that often make it through the complex and overloaded land port security system.

“Two million dollars would be a drop in the bucket, but it would be an a lot more effective drop in the bucket if it was focused on ports of entry instead of wide-open spaces,” Heyman said.

The irony of all this, of course, is that Rick Perry is the first in line to call all kinds of government spending “wasteful”. It’s just that by some strange coincidence, the things that he considers wasteful are all programs he doesn’t like. Here we have convincing empirical evidence that this is a wasteful program, one that doesn’t come close to meeting the goals that were set for it, and by spending money on this program we’re not spending an equivalent amount on something else that actually would be effective. But it’s something that Rick Perry likes, for whatever the reason, and so he wants to keep shoveling money into it, convinced that it can work better if we just keep trying. You really couldn’t come up with a better illustration of the emptiness of “wasteful government spending” rhetoric if you tried.

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.