(The Center Square) – After officially announcing he’s running for a third term for governor on Saturday, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, began increasing his public appearances statewide, touting his record as the state’s 48th governor.
On Tuesday, he spoke at a Denton County mayors crime prevention lunch in Corinth and met with members of law enforcement and elected officials.
"Public safety remains a priority in the state of Texas and we will also continue to support law enforcement and fight against efforts to defund the police,” he said.
To combat escalating crime and homicide rates over the past few years under his watch, Abbott signed multiple bills into law last year in support of law enforcement. He also announced record funding for state and local law enforcement agencies, including $3 billion toward border security efforts.
One new law penalizes local governments that defund their police departments by withholding tax revenue after the Austin City Council voted to gut its police department and crime escalated. Other new laws make it easier to prosecute human smugglers. Manufacturers and dealers of fentanyl caught in Texas also face minimum third-degree felony charges and serious jail time through one of “the toughest drug laws in Texas,” Abbott’s said.
On Tuesday, Abbott took aim at President Joe Biden for his open border policies, which the governor argues emboldened the cartels and increased crime and violence in Texas.
"The failed border policies of the Biden Administration have left Texas to defend itself against the resulting challenges of increased illegal border crossings, deadly drugs, and human trafficking across our state,” he said, thanking local leaders and law enforcement officers who’ve “stepped up to work alongside the state as we solve this crisis and keep Texans safe."
In March of last year, Abbott launched Operation Lone Star to enhance law enforcement efforts at the border to thwart criminal and cartel violence. Part of this effort included creating a new anti-human trafficking initiative supported by the governor's Child Sex Trafficking team and other organizations and agencies.
According to an annual report by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Office, while many criminal enterprises in Texas slowed down in 2020 because of the coronavirus, “human trafficking flourished.”
During the first 11 months of 2020, there were more than 1.5 million unique commercial sex advertisements posted in the state of Texas, over 20% of which advertised suspected children, the report found. Human trafficking has only escalated since then, despite law enforcement’s best efforts.
Within a month of initiating Operation Lone Star, Texas DPS reported an 800% increase over the previous year in the amount of fentanyl its officers confiscated. By July, DPS officers had seized enough fentanyl to kill every person in Texas and California combined, representing a 950% increase from last year, Abbott said. And drug smugglers haven’t stopped, he argues, because the Biden administration had given operational control to Mexican cartels.
Customs and Border Patrol reported in the first quarter of 2021 that it had seized 2,098 total pounds of fentanyl along the southern border, a 233% increase compared to the same quarter last year. Overall, CBP agents last year confiscated 319,447 pounds of marijuana, 190,861 pounds of methamphetamine, 97,638 pounds of cocaine, 202,820 pounds of khat, and 73,872 pounds of other drugs, including prescription and opioids like fentanyl, chemical and other uncategorized drugs.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is “approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin,” the DEA reports. Two milligrams, the weight of a mosquito, is lethal.
Last May, at a law enforcement event with Abbott, Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn warned, “We’re heading for a 50% increase in overdose deaths in Tarrant County alone,” noting that the amount of drugs flooding into Tarrant County had already skyrocketed even with DPS intervention.
Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree, who attended the Tuesday event, told CBS News Dallas-Fort Worth that he doesn’t think law enforcement officials have yet seen “the brunt” of human and drug smuggling, meaning it’s only going to get worse.
“I believe it’s coming,” he said. “One thing we have been seeing is more and more of our street level drug arrests and things of that nature, we’re finding fentanyl. A year ago, it was few and far between.”
The Denton County Commissioners Court recently approved funding for a new human trafficking unit for the sheriff’s department, he said, which is about halfway staffed.
Last year, Abbott called on the Biden administration to close facilities run by the federal government in Texas where alleged abuse of unaccompanied minors was occurring, to label Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations, and to finish construction of the federal border wall. He and other governors proposed a 10-point plan for border security and requested to meet with Biden, who has yet to come to the southern border in any border state.
Since the governors received no response from the Biden administration, Abbott announced that Texas would fund and build its own border wall for which construction has already begun. Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Doucey also created an inter-state compact through which other Republican governors have sent law enforcement officers, National Guard members and other resources to help defend the southern border.