Virtual border system ineffective, out of cash

Published 16 July 2009

Both supporters and opponents of the effort to enlist citizens to keep an eye on Texas’s border with Mexico agree that, so far, it has not worked; the question is whether to scrap the plan or continue to fund it

People power — at times it works, at times it does not. The first attempt of government-sponsored citizen border watch appears to have run into trouble. Texas governor Rick Perry’s border Web camera program has run out of money, and in its first full year of operation failed to meet nearly every law enforcement goal.

Last year, Perry gave the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition a $2 million federal grant to install cameras along the U.S.-Mexico border and broadcast the footage live over the Internet. El Paso Times’s Brandi Grissom writes that an internal report showed that a fraction of the 200 cameras Perry wanted on the border were installed, and that Internet border patrollers produced a handful of drug busts and a scattering of arrests.

Experts on both sides of the immigration issue said the program was unsuccessful. Certain lawmakers have called it a waste. “Instead of making Texas safer, it has made Texas the source of international ridicule,” said state Senator Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso).

Perry is not giving up, though. He is seeking another $2 million to prop up the project that was supposed to become self-sustaining. After being shown a report that indicated the cameras fell far short of their goals, Perry’s staff produced a new, revised report that put the program in a more positive light.

The grant that financed the program has expired, and the sheriffs coalition says that without more funding, the cameras will go dark.

Original goals for the program were unrealistic, said sheriffs coalition executive director Don Reay. He said the cameras have been a success. “We’re hoping there will be a new (grant) offered for next year,” he said.

Grissom writes that in its first full year, the camera Web site drew more than 39 million hits and caught the attention of national and international media. Grissom’s interviews and reports the El Paso Times obtained indicate the nearly 125,000 “virtual Texas deputies” registered on the site led law enforcement to just eight drug busts and eleven arrests.

The beginnings
Texas Border Watch went live online at in November, three months after the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition signed a $2 million contract with the Internet social networking company BlueServo.

The sheriffs coalition last month submitted a year-end report that described the goals for the program and the results it achieved. Nearly 40 million people logged onto the site, according to the report, and 124,933 signed up as virtual deputies to watch footage