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20110826_BORDER-PATROL_TAKING-CARE-OF-BUSINESS_EPG_PAGE-1_0059Business owners taught to be mindful of illegal activity

EDINBURG — Local police and the Rio Grande Valley sector of the U.S. Border Patrol are using a Texas law to educate business owners about turning a blind eye to criminal activity.

Last week, authorities unveiled their “Taking Care of Business” initiative that they say will help keep crime out of local communities.

“It’s impacting all of us, especially in our neighborhoods,” said Border Patrol’s Chief Patrol Agent Rosendo Hinojosa. “We’re going to educate, work with the community, real property owners to inform them of the Texas Nuisance Abatement law that’s on the books that we will be enforced upon them if we don’t get the resolution that we’re seeking.”

Law enforcement in Hidalgo, Starr, Cameron and Willacy counties are all participating in the effort, but Hinojosa said their concentrating their efforts first in Hidalgo County where the biggest influx of drugs and illegal immigrants are found.

According to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the nuisance statute states that any property can be closed down by court order if it is being used for illegal activities like a stash house for illegal immigrants, drugs, gang headquarters or other base of operations for criminals. The statute works by holding the property owners and managers responsible for what happens on their property, the attorney general says.

This law is used to shut down any hangouts known for illegal activity. The goal is to eliminate criminals from gathering in high-crime areas, officials explained.

“This is like border security where we harden our locations and we take it back away from the adversaries, we’re going to be doing the same thing in our towns and cities,” Hinojosa said. “We want to make sure there is no ‘welcome’ or ‘open for business’ open for these criminal entities.”

This program was first stared in Laredo at the start of the year. Here, authorities have spent weeks meeting with business owners about their campaign. Law enforcement agencies have also been coordinating their efforts and outlining their plans to monitor specific areas of the county and which entity will be in charge of making necessary arrests and shutting down noncompliant businesses. Supervising Agent Andy Caballero, who is leading the program, said the goal is to also help businesses find new tools to combat illegal activity. Some of those tools include securing properties with fences and proper lighting.

“We can only do it through the participation of our community,” Hinojosa said. “If you see something, say something.”

Business owners and community members are urged to contact authorities if they suspect illegal activity in their area. Calls to law enforcement are anonymous. Hinojosa said it’s a new way of business for the Border Patrol, using the public’s help to ensure they keep crime rates low and out of communities.

At last week’s event, police chiefs from Mission, McAllen, San Juan and Alamo spoke about how the project could help transform portions of their cities.

Mission Police Chief Leo Longoria said the cooperation between law enforcement agencies sends a strong message to criminals.

“We’re united,” Longoria said.

Already, the feedback to the program has been positive, Hinojosa said. In their attempt to reach out to the community, Hinojosa said officers would give business owners the benefit of the doubt when approaching them about allegations of illegal activity.

“Most of the time, the property owners don’t know this is happening,” Hinojosa said. “…We want to educate them and develop a plan to harden their locations.”

Hinojosa said officials have spoken with business owners and said they were eager to find ways to learn about valuable tools to fight crime anonymously at their businesses.

“We all know what’s going on in our communities,” Hinojosa said. “We get used to crime, but at some point we need to take our streets back.”

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