Wed, Feb 7, 2024 12:31 PM
By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square
The sheriff of a small Texas border county of 14,000 residents has been actively working to combat transnational criminal activity and organized crime.
“Our priority is to deter criminal activity coming through the lake but we’ve never had the resources,” Zapata County Sheriff Raymundo Del Bosque told The Center Square, until additional funds became available through Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star border security initiative.
Zapata County lies along the northeastern shore of Falcon Lake and the Rio Grande River, a major crossing point for cartel smuggling activity.
On Tuesday, Del Bosque and Border Czar Mike Banks announced the sheriff’s office had purchased two boats as part of its new marine unit, made possible through OLS grant funding.
“Without Operation Lone Star funding it would be a rollercoaster ride,” Del Bosque told The Center Square. “We would be tired with no boots on the ground. We would be overwhelmed with people without resources, and without equipment we'd be losing the battle.”
In the last week of January, among other incidents Del Bosque’s deputies responded to, one included a terrorist threat and stopping a human smuggling event in town.
Joining Del Bosque and Banks were Goliad County Sheriff Roy Boyd and multiple sheriffs participating in an Operation Lone Star Task Force that Boyd leads.
The marine unit will patrol part of the Falcon International Reservoir, commonly referred to as Falcon Lake, in Zapata, located roughly 40 miles southeast of Laredo. The reservoir covers 84,000 acres along the Rio Grande River in Zapata and Starr counties, serving as an international boundary with Mexico.
In 2010, the region made international headlines after Los Zetas cartel pirates robbed U.S. boaters on the lake, a cartel plot to destroy the Falcon Dam was foiled, and a couple jet skiing on the lake was fired upon by cartel gunmen. After the husband was killed and the wife escaped, the former Zapata County sheriff “sent word to the Zetas” requesting the husband’s body, saying they had “no plans to prosecute,” the Associated Press reported at the time. In Mexico, the investigator in the case was beheaded; his head was sent to the Mexican military in a suitcase.
At the time, cartels operated in the area without obstruction through an open border.
Things began to change after a new sheriff got elected, Alonso Lopez, who brought on Del Bosque as his chief deputy, the first to hold the position in years. They began working to ensure that Zapata County prioritized law and order. Zapata is also the name of the county seat and town where the sheriff’s office is located. Del Bosque, a Democrat and lifelong resident of Zapata, was first elected sheriff in 2020. He is running for reelection this year. Boyd describes him as “a beloved member of the law enforcement community.”
With additional OLS support, the Zapata County Sheriff’s Office is working with multiple agencies to patrol the area, including its new marine unit.
Del Bosque said their efforts were “very important to keep the border safe, provide better security and safety for the citizens of Zapata, and also provide a better quality of life for all the citizens in Zapata County, and the whole United States. We're going to keep working together, setting the tone and holding the front line here, not only in Zapata, but all through the Texas Mexico border.”
Since Del Bosque became chief deputy and later sheriff, he’s prioritized fiscal responsibility while also bringing additional resources to the county through a range of border security and law enforcement grants.
As sheriff, in the past two years, he’s secured more than $6 million in OLS grants for the county and the sheriff’s office. The money has enabled his office to purchase new vehicles, upgrade facilities, modernize the jail, purchase body worn cameras, body vests, weapons and ammunition, and improve communication technology. Thanks to the state legislature, deputies’ and jailers’ salaries were also increased, he said.
Del Bosque and other sheriffs last year asked the governor and legislature for additional resources and they responded “a hundred percent,” he said.
The sheriff and executive Chief Joe Pena have gone to Austin and Washington, D.C., numerous times to request funding and support for border security initiatives.
Pena, who’s worked in the sheriff’s office for 10 years, told The Center Square, “things have changed in a positive way, with upgrades to equipment and increased salaries all through funding that was not in place before. A lot more funding allocated to us is at stake depending on who is in office. Del Bosque has been working hard to get funding to keep our operations running, our communities safe and increased salaries for our employees.”
Pena and Del Bosque said the entire border has been overlooked for a long time, including smaller agencies that deal with border issues like the sheriff’s office. “Gov. Abbott saw the need and responded,” Del Bosque said. “He didn’t think about it twice. He got his people together and got to work.”