The Texas Department of Public Safety may deploy small, high-tech surveillance balloons on the border to monitor drug trafficking and immigrant smuggling.
During December, the Department of Public Safety started soliciting information on “small, rapidly deployable persistent surveillance systems,” according to documents published by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The request seeks information on balloons light enough for a medium truck to tow and simple enough for a three-man crew to operate.
The formal request for information doesn’t require the Department of Public Safety to buy anything — or indicate the agency will actually deploy surveillance balloons. Responses remain under review, said agency spokesman Tom Vinger, who didn’t have any additional comment.
While preliminary, the Department of Public Safety mentioned the plan to State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and other lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Border Security.
“I would support DPS to the fullest,” Lucio said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection already monitors South Texas with five surveillance balloons provided by the Department of Defense.
Called aerostats, the surveillance balloons hover near Donna, Peñitas, Sullivan City, Roma and Falfurrias. Agents monitor cameras mounted on the aerostats, watching for immigrants and drug smugglers.
Border Patrol recently moved an aerostat from Falfurrias to Donna.
“The comments I have heard? People welcome it,” said Donna police Chief Ruben “Ram” De Leon.
Border Patrol regularly passes information collected by aerostats to state troopers and local law enforcement.
“It lets us know quite a bit ahead of time if there’s movement in a certain area,” said Roma Assistant Police Chief Francisco Garcia.
Located roughly five miles from Roma, the aerostat doesn’t seem to deter smugglers.
“They know it’s there,” Garcia said. “They’re going to try and beat the system anyway.”