EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — After a successful early run in West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, a binational crime-stoppers program is expanding.
The “Se Busca Informacion” (Information Wanted) initiative is being rolled out this week in the Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector and in the Mexican state of Coahuila.
The program employs telephone tips line based on the U.S. side, posters and billboards at ports of entry and in Mexico. The posters feature some jovial, smiling faces that law-enforcement officials say may hide heinous crimes.
“Many of the targets that we seek may have an association with several cartels — CJNG, CDN and Legacy Zetas,” said Martin R. Clark, acting deputy chief patrol agent in the Del Rio Sector. CJNG is the Jalisco cartel, CDN is the Northeast cartel or New Zetas.
Other quarries include people wanted for intoxicated manslaughter, the smuggling of cocaine, meth, and marijuana, and aggravated assault.
Criminals for more than a century have tried to escape justice by crossing the Mexican border. The “Se Busca” program aims to end that and has already led to the capture of several fugitives in Mexico. All of them were either murderers or drug traffickers.
“I think this program has the potential to allay some of the fears that the community has. We all know the monstrosity that some of these cartels create,” Clark said. “Reporters, politicians, regular citizens are fearful. Anybody can be a victim and the stronger these cartels get, the worse it is for all of us who live (here).”
U.S. and Tamaulipas state officials rolled out the program last October in the Rio Grande Valley. One target was quickly apprehended, but chaos ensued with days-long gun battles in Nuevo Laredo, travel warnings for American citizens, and constant ambushes against Tamaulipas state police units.
And while some Mexican residents may be afraid to approach their own authorities in the middle of a drug war, the fact that the “Se Busca Informacion” program hotline is based in the United States may give people confidence.
“We discussed the protocol making sure information that comes in from Mexico goes to a U.S. number,” said Gloria I. Chavez, chief agent of the Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector. “The level of confidence and trust is high, the program has been well embraced. I think that’s why it’s been very successful.”
The El Paso tips line has received 108 leads — 62 telephonically and 46 through WhatsApp.
As a result, three of the 10 most wanted international criminals in the El Paso Sector are already behind bars.
They include Jesus Alfredo Martinez Mendoza, a.k.a. “El Fredy,” who was No. 6 on the list. The Old Guard Barrio Azteca leader was taken by Chihuahua state officials acting on information from the “Se Busca” hotline as he headed to the Rio Grande with a backpack loaded with 11 pounds of heroin he allegedly intended to cross into the U.S. that day.
Other targets captured to date in El Paso include a leader of La Empresa drug gang and a man who was wanted for the murder of two women.
“These three targets have been arrested because of the support of our community, because of the confidence of community members on both sides of the border who courageously called the 1-800 number anonymously and provided information,” Chavez said.
Both Border Patrol officials highlighted the cooperation and “enthusiasm” shown by their Mexican counterparts, particularly Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral and Coahuila Gov. Miguel Riquelme Solis.
Jorge Nava, Corral’s deputy attorney general, said Mexican officials are going after high-profile targets because they’re the ones sparking most of the murders on their side of the border. One target, says Nava, either murdered or ordered the murders of up to 50 people in Juarez, Nava said.
“We are going after the biggest generators of violence,” Nava said, adding that the binational program has provided valuable intelligence that has allowed his officers to effect the arrests.