(The Center Square) Law enforcement officers in a rural county in Texas with a population of roughly 15,000 are working together to thwart unprecedented criminal activity they say is a direct result of “Biden administration open border policies.”
As cartel operatives make their way to and from Houston to the Texas-Mexico border, one main route they take is Highway 59 through Jackson County, Sheriff Kelly Janica said.
“Biden administration policies have been an unmitigated disaster,” Janica said. He said he’s never seen anything in his entire career like the crime stemming from the border today.
“It’s out of control,” he said.
Janica, 67, came out of semi-retirement to fill an open sheriff’s seat in Dec. and soon joined an Operation Lone Star task force that’s been working along the Highway 59 corridor to thwart cartel-related activity.
Goliad County Sheriff Roy Boyd started the task force under Operation Lone Star. Texas’ border security mission was launched in March 2021 by Gov. Greg Abbott. Goliad County Commander John Davis leads it and has built it up to 20 agencies across multiple counties.
Janica was previously Jackson County sheriff from 1988 to 2005 and later served as an emergency management coordinator. County commissioners appointed him as sheriff to fill the remainder of a term vacated by the previous sheriff, which ends in Jan. 2024.
One of Janica’s first calls as sheriff this time, he said, was finding a truck off Highway 59 that had roughly 70 to 80 people inside.
“When we opened the back door, people fell out on the ground,” he said. “They were so dehydrated and couldn’t even run away. If we hadn’t opened the door, there would have been casualties.”
For years, multiple law enforcement agencies have combated traffickers of people, weapons, drugs and money using stolen vehicles along highways 281, 77 and 59.
But with an influx of people and drugs coming from the border, Janica said “it’s unprecedented [number] of stolen vehicles we’re catching.”
Since Dec., his team has found over 100 stolen vehicles, he said, “and that includes four to five that got away from us.”
“All of the stolen vehicles being used are coming out of Harris County,” he said. “Cartels are paying fugitives to drive them to the border to pick up illegal aliens and bring them back north to Houston.”
Fugitives are those with outstanding arrest warrants. The majority being caught are mostly wanted in Harris County, he said.
“Harris County is ‘ground zero’,” Janica added, “for where everyone is going. It’s a ‘sanctuary community,’ the cartels know it. Once they get past Wharton County, they have a free shot.”
The task force operates from Brooks County farthest south to Wharton County in the northernmost part.
Driving along Highway 59 north to Houston, law enforcement patrolling the highway becomes nearly nonexistent in Fort Bend and Harris counties.
The task force has requested assistance from Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, Boyd said, “and were denied their help.”
“This has a direct bearing on what the Biden administration is doing,” Janica said because criminals know once they get to these counties, they aren’t being pursued like they are in the jurisdictions covered by the task force.
Thanks to OLS funds, the task force is using new technology and has access to other resources, including a range of equipment.
It’s “completely different, from daylight and dark, from what it used to be,” Janica said.
Jackson County has historically been short on police officers, he said, with only two police departments and one sheriff’s office.
Combined, their law enforcement officers total just over 20 on patrol and investigations including the chiefs and their deputies, but they’re working together, he said, “as a force multiplier.”
The task force has been “a game changer,” he added, which has enabled counties that have been traditionally short-staffed to help each other.
“Another big problem,” Janica said, is when “illegal aliens with stolen vehicles, whenever they run, they go through open country and destroy anything that gets in their way.” This includes residents’ personal property, from fences to gates to other kinds of property.
“The cost to citizens is starting to increase here,” he said. “I wish there was a way to help local landowners cover the cost of damages because it’s only going to get worse.”
But what worries him, he said, is the constant flow of drugs and guns along Highway 59 making their way to and from Houston.
“Without OLS, we wouldn’t be able to work together in the way that we have,” he added. “The counties can’t afford to provide technology that we’ve been using over the last year” to combat the volume of crime.
Jackson County and others in the task force have submitted requests to the state for additional funding to hire more personnel to help with interdiction.
“Without Operation Lone Star funds, there’s no way we would be able to do what we’re doing,” Boyd said. “We aren’t solving the problem. We’re just mitigating it.”