By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Texas Border Business
Random road checkpoints being set up in deep South Texas by the Texas Department of Public Safety have raised serious concerns among Valley residents, including questions on why certain areas in Hidalgo County appear to be targeted.
Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, wants the state police agency to provide justification for their actions.
A checkpoint is a place along a road or border where vehicles are stopped for inspection.
According to Canales, he has received reports from constituents that the DPS road checkpoints being conducted “seem to be placed in economically disadvantaged areas. Checkpoints have been set up in Alton, the east side of Pharr, a portion of Alamo, but none, so far, along highly-traveled roadways in wealthier parts of the county, such as along Trenton or Dove roads in northeast McAllen.”
Canales has submitted a series of questions to Steven McCraw, Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety that would require state police officials to provide details about the random road checkpoints, including other locations in Texas where state police checkpoints are taking place.
“Are cars being stopped only randomly? We have heard reports from constituents that these checkpoint stops seem to be focused on economically disadvantaged drivers,” Canales asks McCraw in one of the questions. “According to your agency, what constitutes a suspicious vehicle?”
In mid-September, DPS announced the launch of a multi-agency law enforcement initiative to “temporarily increase the patrol presence in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas to address several public safety issues,” according to a September 13 news release issued by the state agency.
But according to a San Antonio Express-News article on the announcement by the DPS, “the agency offered little in the way of details, such as the number of additional officers it’s assigning to the region, plans for implementation or the length of time, giving pause to some civil rights advocates.”
DPS officials stated that “short-term enforcement effort in the Rio Grande Valley” began as a result of “various criminal activities and unsafe driving behaviors” in South Texas.
But Canales, who is an attorney, expressed great concern that the road checkpoints run a high risk of violating the civil rights of South Texans.
“DPS has not been able to explain how these checkpoints will actually benefit Hidalgo County,” said Canales, who represents House District 40. “They say these checkpoints will only be in place for a short duration. If it is only for a short duration, what will the actual long-term effect of these checkpoints be? It seems to imply that these checkpoints are going to have very little positive, long-term effect.”
The checkpoints involve local, state and federal law enforcement agencies increasing river, air and road patrols, and DPS will enforce motor carrier regulations, including checkpoints to ensure compliance with state drivers license, vehicle safety and registration requirements.
Canales remained unconvinced by the lack of information coming from the state police agency.
“The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects people from being stopped or searched by law enforcement, or their property seized, without a warrant or without probable cause that they have committed a crime,” said Canales. “I have strongly supported legislation and state policies to help our law enforcement professionals protect Texans. But I also draw the line when the constitutional rights of all Texans are threatened by unjustified actions.”
Terri Burke, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, shared Canales’ determination to protect the constitutional rights of Texas residents.
“When law enforcement announces a ‘crackdown,’ civil liberties violations often follow. We have already heard from residents that the checkpoints are targeting low-income neighborhoods and colonias. And we have reports that DPS is using the checkpoints to engage in the enforcement of federal immigration law,” Burke said. “These reports are alarming, given that DPS claims the checkpoints are about traffic safety. We are investigating the situation to find out the truth.”
The questions by Canales submitted to McCraw include:
• What are the locations that have already had checkpoints set up and over what time frame were those checkpoints active?
• How many troopers are currently stationed in Hidalgo County and how does this compare with the rest of the state?
• How many troopers are being deployed for this program?
• How many DPS trooper man hours are being utilized on these checkpoints?
• What is the expected cost to the taxpayers for this operation?
• How many troopers have been brought into Hidalgo County and how does this affect other communities in Texas?
• Can we get a complete list of federal, state and local agencies that are involved in these operations?
• Who initiated this checkpoint operation and on what basis?
• Please provide scientific or verifiable data that rises to the level to initiate this operation.
• “Law enforcement has identified various criminal activities and unsafe driving behaviors in south Texas, ” according to the DPS announcement. Can you provide us data that illustrates increased criminal activities, unsafe driving behaviors, vehicle crashes, and the increase of commercial vehicles operating on the roadways?
• What measured effect if any have the checkpoints had on the alleged problems cited by DPS? How many citations and arrests have resulted from the program so far?
• You have also stated that, “DPS began this operation on September 16 and will continue for a short duration”. What constitutes a “short duration” according to DPS?
• Are cars being stopped only randomly? We have heard reports from constituents that these checkpoint stops seem to be focused on economically disadvantaged drivers. According to your agency, what constitutes a suspicious vehicle?
• In setting up these checkpoints, is DPS attempting to take over tasks that are best left to the federal government?