"Walker, Texas Admiral," anyone? The state's Department of Public Safety, which of course includes the Texas Rangers, is getting its own naval unit to fight drug crime on the Mexican border.
The state is spending almost $3.5 million in tax money for six 34-foot gunboats, each which can operate in as little as two feet of water. The vessels are outfitted with automatic weapons and bulletproof shielding.
The state's first boat is scheduled to be launched next month to operate alongside the Border Patrol.
DPS spokesman Tom Vinger told Kari Huus of MSNBC.com the gunboats will operate on the Rio Grande and feeder lakes, as well the Intercoastal Waterway. One of their key roles will be deterring "splashdowns," which is when rafts or boats from Mexico rescue drug smugglers who drive into the river on purpose to avoid capture on the US side.
But Julie Hillrichs of the Texas Border Coalition told Huus there might be better ways to spend the money, as most drugs come into the United States at legal checkpoints (ninety percent, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Drug Threat Assessment 2010 ).
"We're not suggesting that these vessels would not be needed," said Hillrichs. "We’re just saying that we have identified what we believe to be a weaker link. Drug cartels don’t send drugs through the river; they smuggle it through the border crossings."
DPS Regional Commander Jose Rodriguez suggested that the boats (as well as a new anti-smuggling helicopter) would have symbolic impact.
"It sends a message: don't mess with Texas," he told Whitely.
Below, WFAA's original report, which is mostly about the chopper (including footage of a "splashdown"), but you also get several glimpses of a gunboat at the end: