Donna police to partner with FBI narcotics unit

DONNA — The police department here is the latest local agency to enter into a federal narcotics partnership.

City council members approved a memorandum of understanding on April 17 between the Donna Police Department and the FBI, assigning a local investigator to the federal agency’s transnational organized crime task force, one of the first restructuring moves by the recently hired police chief, Gilbert Guerrero.

The investigator will assist with cartel-related crimes, such as drug trafficking and money laundering and work out of the FBI’s field office in McAllen.

Partnerships like this are an opportunity to extend a small police department’s manpower and resources, Guerrero said.

“One of my priorities when I came in was to assign investigators to these task forces, which have a lot more resources than the city has,” he said.

The FBI will provide Donna’s task force member with a cellphone and leased vehicle, as well as reimburse the department for any overtime the investigator spends working on the federal agency’s cases, Rene Ovalle, an FBI special agent and the task force’s supervisor, told the city council.

“Some smaller departments see it as if they’re losing an investigator or police officer, but in reality what you’re doing is, you’re gaining the strength of the FBI,” Ovalle said at the council meeting, adding that as part of the partnership, agents will assist Donna police with cases when needed.

Nonetheless, Guerrero plans on requesting that next fiscal year’s budget allow for the hiring of an additional investigator who would fill the vacancy.

Guerrero, pointing to the success of the San Juan Police Department, also sees joining the task force as a way to return asset forfeiture funds to the police department since the FBI awards seized drug money to its partner agencies. San Juan constructed a majority of its police department with asset forfeiture money — $1.3 million of $1.9 million in construction costs were from seized monies, according to Monitor archives.

“Small agencies don’t have a large tax base (to draw from) in the area,” San Juan Police Chief Juan Gonzalez said, noting his department is part of U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Texas Department of Public Safety task forces. “It’s important for us to join forces with state and federal (agencies) and try to help officers maintain training and equipment.”

Guerrero said he would like to use asset forfeiture funds to purchase new patrol cars, which cost up to $60,000 each, as well as weapons, ammunition and bulletproof vests.

The investigator Guerrero selected will officially join the task force once vetted by the FBI.