This article originally appeared in the Friday Aug. 16, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
Law enforcement officials from across Hidalgo County gathered at the Mission Event Center on Wed. for a conference that has tripled in attendance in the last year.
The Prevention Awareness Team of Hidalgo (PATH) County, a coalition of law enforcement, school districts, and social services organizations, in collaboration with local High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task forces, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Behavioral Health Solutions held a free two-day conference at the Mission Event Center on Aug. 14 and 15 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
The training focused on topics facing adolescents and young adults in the community and how various sectors in the area can help prevent gang involvement, the use of drugs and using social media safely.
Last year’s conference was held in Weslaco, and about 80 people were in attendance. According to Karen Rodriguez, the Regional Provider for the Prevention Research Center and a member of the PATH committee, PATH found that through networking and collaboration with several organizations, the number of attendees quickly grew.
“Right now we have 240 [people registered in the event],” Rodriguez said. “We’re very excited, now there are more people willing to support our growth here.”
The conference aims to provide continuing education to law enforcement, social workers, school counselors and other local professionals on a wide range of topics that directly impact Rio Grande Valley communities. Presenters will include overviews of the national opioid epidemic, active shooter awareness, helping those with substance use disorders, overdose simulation training, emerging drug trends, gang impacts, social media safety and local drug trends.
“It’s meant to reduce substance abuse and create awareness in our community,” Rodriguez said. “Especially here in the Valley, we have this notion or mentality that it’s okay to have alcohol available to kids, or it’s okay to smoke or do any kind of drugs.”
The event also featured an information fair with exhibitors promoting services and resources available in and outside of the Rio Grande Valley. Attendees were able to visit over 20 informational booths to gain valuable information on services and resources currently available in the community.
“PATH was created as a way to unite different agencies doing similar work in the community but with different perspectives,” Rodriguez said. “It is a committee of area law enforcement, education, non-profit drug-free coalitions and support service agencies whose mission is to increase community awareness through outreach and training and educate the public as to the growing epidemic of opioids, prescription drug and substance abuse as part of an overarching district strategy to reduce crime and ensure safe neighborhoods in the Hidalgo County area.”
Rodriquez hopes the training makes an impact on the people who have to work with and talk to parents about these issues.
“All the sessions are very informative,” Rodriguez said. “Especially for law enforcement and social workers who have contact with parents, they’re able to talk about this training and help their kids.”
Mission Mayor Armando O’caña spoke highly of the conference, saying it was vital to the well-being of the community.
“We are elated to have so many of our police officers here,” O’caña said. “They are receiving top-of-the-line training.”
O’caña added that their goal in participating in the conference is to make sure everyone in the county can find unity in training and awareness.
“It will make the city safer, the county of Hidalgo safer and our state of Texas safer,” O’caña said.