The Rio Grande that borders Anzalduas Park and the upper Rio Grande Valley has long been considered a favorite staging area for drug smugglers.
Lt. Charlie Goble said the state’s new Tactical Marine Unit hopes to help change that.
As a preview of what’s to come, the Texas Department of Public Safety put two fast-moving gun boats in the water, with imposing .30-caliber machines guns and a crew of six heavily armed DPS troopers, scanning the U.S. and Mexican sides of the river.
All was quiet on that particular day, but over the last three years, DPS reports at least 65 “splashdowns” where smugglers being pursued by U.S. law enforcement on land, ditch their stolen trucks in the Rio Grande.
Lt. Charlie Goble said by then, others on the Mexican side have rafts at the ready.
“They will come over here and recover all the narcotics they can recover and go right back,” Goble, who commands the Tactical Marine Unit, said. “That is why we’re here."
He said the boats will try to intercept the smugglers and their illegal cargo before they get to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.
Asked whether DPS had seen a drop in activity yet, Goble said it is too soon to say.
But he said scouts on the Mexican side no doubt have already seen or heard about the boats.
Once fully operational by the end of the year, Goble said six vessels will travel the Rio Grande, international lakes at Falcon and Amistad Dams that border Mexico, as well as the Texas intra-coastal waterways.
He said DPS will join other agencies patrolling the waters such as Texas Parks and Wildlife, U.S Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Border Patrol.
Goble said the fully armored boats have the latest technology, including night vision. He said the powerful guns on board send a message to smugglers. “We hope so. That is our intention,” Goble said.
In June last year, Texas Rangers and other officers returned fire after they allegedly were shot at by several smugglers on the Mexican side.
Goble said his troopers would prefer not to use their weapons, “but we are prepared to use them if we have to.”
He said the boats go up to 60 mph with 900 horsepower from three engines, but also have a “nearly silent stealth mode” to avoid detection.
Goble also said the boats can operate in as little as two feet of water, but the usually depth varies from 15 to 30 feet.
The DPS lieutenant said the $585,000 cost of each boat was paid with state and federal funds.
He said, “The payoff we hope to achieve is to deter criminal activity in this part of the river.”
Even if that happens, Goble said the patrols will continue wherever the smugglers go next. He said, “We’re extremely mobile. We’ll move with them.”