Program allows citizens to become "virtual deputies" patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border
The next time you find yourself with
nothing to do, why not go online
and help fight border crime? The
Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition, in collaboration
with BlueServo, has deployed
Virtual BorderWatch, a real-time surveillance
program that allows the public to
keep an eye on the U.S.-Mexico border
from their home computers.
Virtual BorderWatch is a free service
that is accessed by creating an account
at www.blueservo.net. Users with high-speed
Internet can log in and monitor
up to 15 day/night surveillance cameras,
strategically placed in high-threat and
inaccessible areas along the 1,250-mile
border. The cameras provide real-time
streaming video whereby citizens can
monitor and anonymously report suspicious
activity to law enforcement agents
via e-mail. Each camera's view includes
a caption that describes the area under
surveillance. For example, camera 1
watches an area known for illegal drug
activity and instructs, "If you see people
crossing the water in this area, please report
activity." Camera 2's caption reads,
"During the day, if you see four or five
young men in a boat, report this activity.
At night, if you see vehicle, boat and/or
people movement, report this activity."
Under the video, there are buttons for
viewers to make a comment, ask a question
and report suspicious activity.
Citizens also can connect their own
Web cameras to create local Virtual
Neighborhood Watches to protect their
own homes and neighborhoods. The site
has received 20 million hits and boasts
more than 43,000 registered users since it
launched on Nov. 20, 2008.
Law and Order
The initiative is designed to counter illegal
immigration, drug and human smuggling,
and border violence. The numbers
and locations of these cameras are confi-
dential, but most are discreetly mounted
on structures on private properties. The
number of cameras employed and their
locations are routinely assessed and constantly
changed based on threat.
The program is managed by the Texas
Border Sheriff 's Coalition, an association
of 20 sheriffs from various border counties,
who are responsible for responding
to reports, conducting all investigations
and taking appropriate actions.
"This initiative advances the concept
of a neighborhood watch by leveraging
the latest surveillance technology to
create a 'virtual' neighborhood watch
program," said Arvin West, Hudspeth
County sheriff and first vice president of
the TBSC. "By putting more eyes on the
Texas-Mexico border, law enforcement
can better protect our state from powerful
and ruthless Mexican crime cartels and
violent transnational gangs."
Gov. Perry has provided $2 million
in Criminal Justice grant funds for this
"Leveraging advanced technology
is a key part of our state-led approach
to making our border stronger and our
nation safer, and I am pleased with and
will continue to support the Texas Border
Sheriff's Coalition commitment to seeing
this virtual border watch concept fully
realized," Perry said in a press release.
"Under this innovative program and the
watchful eye of law enforcement and citizens,
those criminals, predators and terrorists
looking to exploit our border with
Mexico or do harm in our communities
will lose their greatest strategic asset: the
cloak of secrecy."
National Security Threat
With the drug-war situation in Mexico
deteriorating, the use of this technology
is even more crucial as drug-related violence
crosses from Juárez, Mexico, into
border cities such as El Paso, Texas.
In a report released on Dec. 28, 2008,
Gen. Barry McCaffrey warned that refugees
fleeing Mexico could negatively impact
these border cities. "Mexico is on the
edge of abyss," he said. "It could become
a narco-state in the coming decade,"
which would result in a "surge of millions
of refugees crossing the U.S. border to
escape the domestic misery of violence,
failed economic policy, poverty, hunger,
joblessness, and the mindless cruelty and
injustice of a criminal state."
The Good, The Bad and The Plucky
Critics say the program is ineffective
as it has resulted in only four arrests so far.
Some say the program promotes vigilantism,
believing the job of border
security should be handled solely by
To date, there have been no reports
of vigilante groups using the Web site
to take matters into their own hands, and
the four arrests involved the trafficking of
2,000 pounds of marijuana.
Proponents of the program say the
cameras help deter crime as thousands of
Virtual Texas Deputies™ from anywhere
in the world can be watching the border at
any given time.
The ultimate goal of the program is to
cover every stretch of the border that isn't
protected by a fence.
This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Security Today.