McALLEN — Outfitted in military fatigues, young federal police officers from Mexico sat in a classroom at a north McAllen law enforcement training center and were welcomed by Border Patrol agents.
An officer from the United States Consulate General in Matamoros looked on, as did McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez as they sat among colleagues in the front of the room. Rodriguez grabbed the microphone and opened the remarks.
“Bienvenidos,” he told the young men, who were in store for a multi-day training. It was the beginning of the first annual U.S.-Mexico Anti-Transnational Criminal Organization and Border Violence Prevention Initiative, a bilateral attempt at improving law enforcement education, tactics and efficiency.
For now, this week’s classroom and field training at the McAllen Police Department’s Northwest Training Center will be Border Patrol teaching the Mexican police.
“Conducting training, tactical tracking, room entries and close quarter combat,” said Eduardo Cantu, deputy patrol agent, Special Operations Detachment for the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector. They would also go “into rooms for police tactics.”
The idea of law enforcement collaboration with Mexico is not new in South Texas. Agencies across the region for years have talked about the cooperation between law enforcement in Texas and Mexico working together.
Jose Gutierrez, political economic officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Matamoros, can attest. The collaboration between officials from the two countries is critical, he said, and this program would help that.
“This is furthering relationships,” Gutierrez said, adding that “relationship building is key.”
This new program comes at a time when the Border Patrol has come under criticism from some lawmakers in the U.S. following multiple migrant deaths while they were in Border Patrol custody in recent months. The agency has been inundated with large groups of mostly Central American migrants crossing the Rio Grande illegally, with extra Border Patrol holding space having to be created along the border with the construction of large tents and other temporary housing.
For their part, Mexican police have come to be seen as notoriously corrupt, with reports of cartel connections, extortion and other illicit activities. Especially following the recent federal trial in New York of drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera, known as El Chapo, which revealed damning evidence of corruption in Mexico, witnesses said, including the first ever official on Guzman’s payroll: Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni, the chief of Mexico City’s federal police.
But law enforcement in Mexico have tried to clean up their act, and agencies in the U.S. hope to help improve their training.
“Maybe in the future,” said John Morris, acting deputy chief patrol agent of the Valley sector, “we can turn this around and y’all can give some training to this side.”