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Border camera test nets few results

Associated Press | Januray 8, 2007

EL PASO — A monthlong test run this fall of a Web site allowing ordinary citizens monitor the border via live video resulted in the apprehension of 10 undocumented immigrants, one drug bust and one interrupted smuggling route.

State officials said that making apprehensions wasn't the goal of the $200,000 border camera tests.

The point was to see whether the idea was feasible — and whether the software and technology worked, Texas Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw said.

"This wasn't designed to tee-up and support (law enforcement) operationally. It never was," McCraw told the El Paso Times for today's editions. "It was designed specifically just to see the technology."

But some border lawmakers said the results made them doubt the efficiency of Gov. Rick Perry's plan to put $5 million worth of cameras on the border. He is set to ask lawmakers to approve the money during the legislative session that will start Tuesday.

"It seems to me that $20,000 per undocumented worker is a lot of money," said state Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso.

The newspaper obtained state reports about the results of the November trial of Gov. Rick Perry's Texas Border Watch online camera program. Through the Public Information Act, the newspaper also received a sampling of the 14,800 e-mails viewers sent through the Web site.

The e-mails led U.S. Border Patrol to 10 of the more than 12,000 undocumented immigrants officials said agents caught in November on the Texas-Mexico border.

During its test run from Nov. 3 through Nov. 30, the site received nearly 28 million hits. About 220,000 registered on the site.

McCraw said that during the test, eight to 12 cameras along Texas' 1,200-mile border with Mexico were operating in four counties — El Paso, Val Verde, Hidalgo and Cameron.

According to information compiled by the Texas Homeland Security Department, more than one-third, 5,534, of the e-mails viewers sent through the Web site were reports of possible suspicious activity along the border.

The rest were comments, reports of technical problems and suggestions for improvement. More than 2,200 were blank e-mails.

As the test continued, McCraw said, state officials incorporated some of the e-mailed suggestions into the Web site. He said that one of the best ideas from viewers was to include details about what kind of activity would be suspicious in the areas.

In the second half of the test period, most of the e-mails from viewers reported suspicious activity, but far fewer were received each day with the number of e-mails dropping from an average of about 1,100 a day the first week to about 150 a day in the final week.

McCraw said that though those were the only two occasions on which immigrants were arrested, e-mail reports helped law enforcement officers chase back others who were trying to cross illegally.

Val Verde County Sheriff D'Wayne Jernigan said the viewers did surveillance work he can't afford to have his deputies do.

Perry spokesman Robert Black said Perry would ask lawmakers for the $5 million to operate the cameras as part of his $100 million border security package.

"If we can get this much help and feedback from a handful of cameras, we're going to get a lot more participation the more cameras we put up," Black said

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