By John Larson
The Socorro Police Department is taking steps to further curb narcotics activity in the Socorro area by attending training workshops hosted by the national High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program.
Police Chief George Van Winkle said Detective Rocky Fernandez recently attended a “drug cartel” conference in Las Cruces and a Domestic Highway Interdiction workshop in Phoenix.
According to its website, the HIDTA program enhances and coordinates drug control efforts among local, State, and Federal law enforcement agencies. The program provides agencies with coordination, equipment, technology, and additional resources to combat drug trafficking in critical regions of the United States.
Van Winkle said Mexican drug cartels are expanding their methods of getting cocaine, heroin, and marijuana into the Southwest.
“They’re trying to figure out new ways to smuggle the drugs into the country, and how to get them on the streets,” Van Winkle said. “Socorro is at the junction of two common routes for transporting narcotics, Highway 60 and I-25, and we’re constantly looking for drugs.
“We’re out there doing traffic stops and our officers are trained in what to look for when a drive is pulled over for a traffic violation,” he said.
Van Winkle said the practice of profiling does not apply when making traffic stops. “At night there’s no way you can see who’s in the vehicle, especially on I-25,” he said. “We are very conscious on that, and if you go back through the citations, [the suspects] are all different.”
He said officers are trained to spot inconsistencies in drivers’ stories, coupled with other indications, like out-of-state plates. “We work with the Border Patrol on some cases,” Van Winkle said. “But we’ve assisted them more than they’ve assisted us.”
“The sheriff’s office has been good to work with. We assist each other regularly,” he said. “The whole idea is to get the bad guys.”
Detective Fernandez said the conferences he attended gave an insight into the extent of drug trafficking from Mexico, and how dangerous it is to travel south of the border.
“One Mexican who was stopped in Las Cruces said, ‘muchas muertes,’ when they asked him why he crossed the border,” Fernandez said. “On one day alone there were 280 killings in Juarez.”
While over 12,000 have been killed in Mexico in 2010, three thousand of those were killed in Juarez alone, he said. “Right now the government is saying simply do not go to Mexico.”
“In Mexico, people driving can be stopped anywhere by Cartel members dressed as police or Federales,” Fernandez said. “And they even have official looking vehicles. The only way you can tell if it’s a real police car is by the VIN.”
He said he learned that Mexican drug cartels are building their drug corridor out of Mexico northward, and infiltrating into Colorado, where companies are started as a front.
“They will hire Mexicans to work for them, and they know what their family connections are in Mexico,” he said. “They have photographs of their family members and tell them, “if you don’t do what we want you to do, everyone in your family will be dead within 24 hours.”
Van Winkle said the HIDTA program provides much needed funding for officers’ overtime.
“Federal money gives more opportunity for officers to earn a little more money, and have more officers working,” he said. “They have the option to be working on their off time, if they decide to.”