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Multi-Jurisdictional Task Forces Key to Combating Cross-Border Drug Trafficking and Violence, Report Finds

San Diego County is home to 20 such tasks forces.

Pedestrians attempt to enter the United States at the San Ysidro Port of Entry Feb. 17, 2012. Photo credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Pedestrians attempt to enter the United States at the San Ysidro Port of Entry Feb. 17, 2012. Photo credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Collaboration among local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the form of multi-jurisdictional task forces is key to combating drug trafficking and violence stemming from the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a three-year evaluation conducted by the SANDAG Criminal Justice Research Division with funding from the National Institute of Justice. 

The study, titled “Cross-Jurisdictional Task Forces on the Border: Targeting Drugs and Violence in San Diego County,” documented the existence of 20 task forces in the region as of the end of 2013, whose primary mission is tackling cross-border drug-related crime and violence. The research focused on how these types of efforts operated, the short- and long-term benefits they provided, and where opportunities for improvement may exist. The top ten lessons/findings gleaned from this unprecedented research have been summarized in a nine-page bulletin.

“For border regions like ours, cross-jurisdictional task forces are an extremely important tool to facilitate the coordination and information sharing that’s necessary to dismantle drug trafficking organizations and other sophisticated criminal enterprises,” said Dr. Cynthia Burke, SANDAG Director of Criminal Justice Research. “In San Diego County, we have a strong track record of law enforcement agencies working together to go after high-value targets.”

Earlier this year, a multi-agency investigation resulted in the arrests of 24 North Park gang members for cross-country sex trafficking of girls and women, as well as murder, kidnapping, robbery, and drug-related crimes. Also recently, the FBI working in conjunction with the North County Regional Gang Task Force secured indictments against 22 suspected drug traffickers and associates of the Mexican Mafia prison gang.

At the beginning of the research project in 2011, there were 18 task forces in San Diego County focused on cross-border drugs and violence. By 2013, the number had increased to 20, covering specialties ranging from money laundering and internet crimes against children to auto theft and regional gangs. (A complete list of task forces is available on Page 6 of the bulletin.) Each of the task forces reflects different key priorities, whether it be geographical areas, crime types, or specific criminal enterprises or entities.

On average, these task forces have been around for 14 years. And on average, they have 26 full-time sworn staff from nine different agencies. More than half of the task forces included at least one federal representative (100%), local (89%) and state agency representative (50%), as well as a prosecutor (78%) and someone from a community supervision agency (50%). These statistics demonstrate the high level of collaboration in San Diego County that is not always the case in other areas.

Almost all (99%) of the law enforcement stakeholders surveyed for this project (more than 800 from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in San Diego County) agreed that task forces are even more important in a border region. When asked why they thought this was the case, common responses included the greater variety and amount of crime in these areas, the fact that the region is an international point of entry, the greater number of agencies required to coordinate, and the potential for spillover violence.

The study also found that cases brought by task forces are often successfully prosecuted. Researchers closely examined the efforts of the Violent Crime Task Force – Gang Group, and found that its cases had a high prosecutorial acceptance rate (87%), high percentage pleading guilty or were found guilty (100%), and a high percentage sentenced to serve time in custody (96%).

—The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) released this report on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.

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