Texas’s New Weapon Against Cartels: Armored Gunboatshttp://www.theospark.net/2012/01/hell-yes-for-texas.htmlhttp://www.kxan.com/dpp/news/texas/new-dps-boats-tools-in-drug-smuggling
Don't accuse Texas of being gun-shy. This morning, the Lone Star State commissioned the second out of six armored gunboats now being sent to the Rio Grande to fight Mexico's drug traffickers.
According to press reports, the Texas Department of Public Safety -- state police who also oversee the Texas Rangers -- is spending a total of $3.5 million to outfit six high-speed vessels with machine guns and armor plating. The boats, like the one commissioned in Austin this morning and named after fallen State Trooper David Irvine Rucker, are expected to begin operations this month (photos here). It's all part of a plan to patrol the river, lakes and the ship channel along the Gulf of Mexico to watch for drug smugglers and pirates.
The boats have drawn comparison to Vietnam-era Patrol Fast Craft boats, or Swift Boats. But they're a bit smaller, with a length of 34 feet in comparison to the Swift Boat's 50. Swift Boats were also armed with high-explosive mortars, which will not be on board the gunboats. Still, they're pretty menacing. The gunboats will reportedly carry an arsenal of six mounted machine guns apiece. The Rio Grande is also narrow and not very deep, hence the small size and ability to operate in as little as two feet of water, according to Dallas TV news station WFAA.
"Cartel operatives have fired at law enforcement officers while they were attempting to interdict drug loads on the Rio Grande River. When our officers come under fire from these weapons, we want to afford them every opportunity to return home safely from each patrol mission," Tom Vinger, assistant chief of public affairs for the department, told the San Angelo Standard-Times.
Texas is also faced with a unique geographical dilemma. The state's border with Mexico is the longest of any state -- 1,241 miles compared to second-longest Arizona's 372-mile-border -- and is entirely river-based.
While the river serves as a deterrent to drug traffickers entering the United States, it also deters pursuits by highway patrol officers chasing suspects back across the border. Cartel drug-runners don't stop and rarely surrender when confronted by Texas lawmen. Instead, they high-tail it back to Mexico, plunging into the Rio Grande (if necessary) and either swimming to shore or being picked up by cartel boats launched from the opposite bank.
As many as 40 percent of car chases in populated Hidalgo County across from the Mexican border city of Reynosa end up with the suspects escaping, many of them in "splashdowns" after dumping their vehicles in the river. Hence gunboats.
There's also concern about increasing violence. Falcon Lake, a water reservoir along the river, has seen several violent incidents, notably between Mexican security forces and gunmen believed to be from the notorious Zetas. Last May, one Mexican marine was killed along with 13 gunmen during a firefight on an island in the lake. Earlier on Sept. 30, 2010, pirates operating in Falcon Lake shot and killed U.S. citizen David Hartley while he was vacationing with his wife.
Days before Hartley's killing, The Texas Tribune reported the Rio Grande, once a popular attraction for jet skiers, was empty except for "troops [who] regularly stand guard while workers pull vehicles loaded down with dope from the muddy river bottom."
The gunboats are also an opportunity for lame Texas jokes. Jason Cohen at Texas Monthly wrote "'Walker, Texas Admiral' anyone?" But one problem: Walker rarely used guns.
Armored boats added to DPS arsenal Boats are bullet-proofhttp://www.youtube.com/user/thealexjoneschannel?ob=4&feature=results_main#p/u/1/XCm7UNvP1cg
AUSTIN (KXAN) - The Texas Department of Public Safety is unveiling a powerful new tool to fight drug dealers and human smugglers.
A new fleet of patrol boats is poised to join the battle along the Rio Grande and international lakes.
"This is what you call the bad boat. And indeed it is," said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
McCraw and other DPS officials were on hand at Decker Lake in east Travis County on Thursday to show off the first of six “shallow water interceptors”. Each vessel costs approximately $580,000 fully equipped. The funding comes from the Texas Legislature and federal grants.
The 34-foot long boats feature armored glass and armored hulls, along with 900-horsepower engines. The vessels sport 4 machine gun turrets and state of the art night vision cameras.
"It is fully capable of taking whatever threats they'll encounter. And there will be a full spectrum of threats, because we will be using this as an interdiction tool. The cartels continue to exploit, move ton quantities of drugs or humans across that river and those waterways. We need to be able to interdict those," said McCraw.
DPS will name each of the six vessels in honor of a fallen trooper. The one unveiled Thursday salutes Jerry Don Davis, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in Lubbock County on Oct. 5, 1980, after stopping a subject for a traffic violation. Davis had been a trooper less than 20 months and was stationed at Slaton.
Davis’ mother Joyce and other family members took a ceremonial ride around Decker Lake aboard the “J.D. Davis.”
"J.D.'s mother was completely thrilled about it. She just chokes up every time she starts to talk about it at all," said Michael Davis, cousin of the slain trooper. “This is a great honor for him. And I know he's looking down. He's proud."
McCraw said Texans should owe a deep sense of gratitude to the families of fallen officers.
"It's humbling to be around people that would care so much about their fellow citizens that they would gladly give their life, recognizing that families sacrifice when they're on the job and they pay the ultimate sacrifice with their lives."
The newly formed Highway Patrol Tactical Marine Unit will eventually number 40 DPS officers. The team will work in coordination with local and federal law enforcement agencies and provide assistance as needed.
The six boats will be deployed along the border in early 2012.