Although El Paso benefits from the amount of federal resources and manpower poured into it because of border security concerns, its police department and sheriff’s office remain responsible for local law and order in a county of more than 1,000 square miles and 750,000 people. That can be a daunting task with fewer than 1,000 police officers and 250 sheriff’s deputies, says Wiles.
Public-private security partnerships help fill that void. “We’re very dependent on the relationships we’ve built with citizens, citizens groups, and private security,” he says. “There’s a lot more of them than there are public security officers.”
Wiles helped spearhead the EPPD’s involvement in the Law Enforcement and Private Security (LEAPS) Association when he was police chief. Before Wiles became sheriff, the office had not participated in LEAPS. After his arrival, he made sure sheriff representatives attended meetings.
To help draw private security professionals and law enforcement representatives together, he would hold meetings at nice downtown hotels and buy everyone lunch with confiscated drug money. He says these interactions did much to tear down the walls that used to divide the two professions.
“I started policing in 1982, and I’ll tell you that there was no relationship at all,” Wiles says. “It was like ‘You’re a security guard. You’re not to our level. We don’t want to have to deal with you.’”
As the private security industry became more professional, those walls began to crumble, and the interactions provided by LEAPS meetings helped to facilitate that, he says.
LEAPS, which began in Dallas in the early 1990s, is a program of the Associated Security Services and Investigators of the State of Texas (ASSIST). Its mission is to ensure that private security officers receive enhanced training by law enforcement agencies to make them more effective partners against crime while increasing the amount of information shared between the two security realms.
To exemplify how El Paso city and county government value public-private partnerships, Wiles grabs the latest issue of Managing Security Today, the quarterly magazine of ASSIST. Flipping through the pages, he notes how the magazine has articles from himself, Chief Border Agent Hill, and the FBI’s Special Agent in Charge of the El Paso Division.
“I don’t think you see this cooperation in other communities,” Wiles says. “I could be wrong, but that’s what I hear.”
The El Paso/Juarez Chapter of ASIS International also factors into the public-private partnership mix. Ocegueda, who is an ASIS member, says the chapter meetings provide good networking and training opportunities.
The chapter also offers members opportunities to hear presentations from the police, the military, and intelligence groups. For instance, noting the epidemic in carjackings in Juarez, Ocegueda says that the information shared at chapter meetings can help people decide what vehicle to drive across the border. Ford and Chevy pickup trucks and sports utility vehicles, he notes, are bad decisions. So is traveling at night or straying from main roads. Information that members gather at the meetings can be shared with their own organization’s employees working in both El Paso and Juarez.
The war raging between cartels stays mostly south of the border, experts say, because the cartels do not want to force the United States into a battle that might close down the border. It’s basically a business decision: They need El Paso’s bridges to get drugs into the United States as the DHS agent explains. But that’s not to say El Paso is immune from fallout. There have been incidents as noted earlier. And cartels are not afraid to kidnap victims in El Paso even if they do take them to Juarez to torture, kill, and mutilate.
Still, Wiles says that his community is resilient and ready. Good civilian police relations, strong public-private partnerships, and heavy law enforcement concentration and cooperation will continue to help El Paso stave off the violence suffered by its sister city across the border.
“We have faith in the systems that are in place [to ensure] that spillover won’t happen,” Wiles asserts. “But if it does, we believe the resources and the plans in place will be able to respond appropriately to that.”
Matthew Harwood is an associate editor at Security Management.
♦ Photo of pedestrian fence separating the El Paso Sector from Juarez by Matthew Harwood/Security Management