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High Intensity Drug Trafficking AreaInternational
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Houston HIDTA

Mission Statement: Measurably reduce drug trafficking, thereby reducing the impact of illicit drugs in this and other areas of the country. The specific goals of Houston HIDTA are to "create, broker and nurture multi-agency task force approaches for the measurable disruption and dismantling of narcotic, money laundering and drug gang organizations."

General Information:
Year of Designation: 1990
Geographic Area of Responsibility:
Texas: Aransas, Brooks, Galveston, Hardin, Harris, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Kenedy, Kleberg, Liberty, Nueces, Orange, Refugio, San Patricio and Victoria counties.
Contact: (281) 987-3882/1415

Threat Abstract:

The Houston HIDTA was designated in 1990 as one of the five original HIDTAs. Houston is the nation's fourth largest city and one of the nation's major narcotics gateways. Its proximity to Mexico, transportation infrastructure, racial and ethnic diversity, corporate economy, and international trade continue to make the Houston HIDTA one of the nation's primary distribution hubs, as well as a conduit for the movement of illegal drug proceeds to source countries. The Drug Trafficking Organizations are primarily Mexican and Colombian, but traffickers are from all over the world operate in Houston. Drug trafficking patterns indicate that overland routes continue to be the preferred method of transporting illegal drug to and through the Houston HIDTA. A maritime threat continues to be posed from the large volume of container cargo shipped through the region's ports, as well as from commercial and noncommercial vessels operating in the Texas Gulf Coast region. Air smuggling, via private aircraft and "passenger carry" on commercial airlines, is a threat due to the high volume of air traffic through the area and the number of landing facilities in the region. Sixty-six percent of the 164 identified drug trafficking organizations identified in 2000 used ground transportation, 12% air, 5% maritime, and 2% rail. Forty-eight percent of the drug trafficking organizations traffic cocaine, 34% marijuana, 9% heroin, 7% methamphetamine, and 7% hallucinogens. Thirty-nine percent distribute two or more drug types. Money laundering organizations ship bulk currency in commercial and personal vehicles shipped via sea or driven into Mexico. Additionally, legal and illicit wire transmitters in the region send money worldwide. Local gangs, trying to avoid affiliation by not displaying gang-related clothing and tattoos, traffic and disseminate drugs while attempting to appear legitimate in owning record shop businesses, auto detail shops, entertainment enterprises and other cash intensive activities.

Strategy Abstract:

The heads of eight federal and four state and local law enforcement managers in Southeast Texas comprise the Executive Committee (EXCOM). The EXCOM meets quarterly and as necessary to address ad-hoc issues and to monitor the progress of the efforts of the each of the Initiatives. Their direction and policies, as well as those of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) are administered on a daily basis by the Director, in concert with the Executive Sub-Committee and Working Group. The EXCOM has divided its resources into four categories to combat this threat: Trafficker Initiatives (Major and Regional), Money Laundering Initiative, Gang Initiatives, and Intelligence. Over 420 personnel from 24 federal, state and local agencies are full-time participants in HIDTA Initiatives.

The majority of Initiatives are made up of collocated federal, state and local agencies, sharing their intelligence with a unified intelligence Initiative. Although the targeting focus of each Initiative is unique, their commonality is their intelligence pooling and their acceptance and targeting of a specific threat. Further, those Initiatives that target major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations are mandated to seek OCDETF classification of their cases as often as possible. The OCDETF coordinator from the U.S. Attorneys Office also sits on the Executive Committee as their representative, thereby cementing the relationship between the two programs.

Investigative Support Center:

All Houston HIDTA Initiatives are linked together through their participation and use of the Joint Drug Intelligence Group (JDIG), the Texas Narcotic Information System (TNIS), and the Post Seizure Analysis Team (PSAT). These three entities, whose missions are distinct and different, offer the Houston law enforcement community an operational unification heretofore unavailable prior to HIDTA. The Beaumont Regional Intelligence Center, serving the counties in southeast Texas, will perform functions similar to the JDIG, directly supporting the law enforcement efforts on trafficking routes and coastal region east of Houston. These units all constantly seek new methods, foster agreements and provide mechanisms for pointer indexing, case support and target development. The Narcotic Operation Control Center (NOCC) provides deconfliction of operational activity for officer safety and avoidance of duplicative efforts.

Initiatives that were approved to implement the 2000 Houston HIDTA Strategy include:

  1. Major Drug Squads (MDS): A collocated, agency-integrated, multi-jurisdictional task force, with the specific mission of conducting complex, long term investigations aimed at major drug trafficking organizations of national and international scope. Concurrently, all intelligence developed in pursuit of these targets is shared with the major federal databases, EPIC, TNIS and the JDIG.
  2. Currency/Narcotic Transshipment Interdiction Initiative (CNTI): Formed in FY/97, this collocated, multi-agency Initiative attempts to interdict narcotics and currency and the traffickers thereof, through investigative enforcement at hubs of distribution, i.e. airports, seaports, rail stations, bus stations, and express mail couriers. The intelligence collected in these efforts are monitored and analyzed by the JDIG and PSAT for development into major cases for the MDS, HMLI and participating agencies.
  3. Targeted Offender Group Initiative (TOG): This concept was initiated to incorporate collocated, multi-agency squads that target specific regional trafficking organizations operating within the Houston and adjacent Gulf Coast area. One squad's mission is specifically designed to counteract those crack distributors who have a lethal hold in selected areas of Houston. This squad employs a multi-jurisdictional approach to recapture neighborhoods that includes state and federal prosecution, building code violations, and the varied enforcement authorities of federal, state and local agencies. Intelligence gathered within this group is entered into the databases of participating local and federal agencies as well as the JDIG.
  4. The Texas Coastal Corridor Initiative (TCCI): Nine Texas counties in and around the City of Corpus Christi were authorized by the Director of ONDCP in April 1997, to become part of the Houston HIDTA. Law enforcement leaders in the area were able to demonstrate that this particular corridor between the Republic of Mexico and the Houston metropolitan community plays a vital role in the threat as posed in the referenced Threat Assessment. This collocated, multi-agency task force effort focuses on three fronts: 1) Identification and targeting of Mexican/Colombian drug trafficking organizations operating in the area; 2) Collection and dissemination of intelligence data acquired from arrestees at the Border Patrol checkpoints located in their area; 3) Collection, dissemination and coordination of investigation information emanating from money seizures in the area.
  5. Houston Money Laundering Initiative (HMLI): A collocated, multi-jurisdictional task force established to intercept narcotic trafficking profits through the identification, arrest and prosecution of money launderers and their organizations. This unit has a dual function of analyzing intelligence data to reveal new trends and methods of money laundering to constantly and effectively readjust its investigative efforts. The HMLI shares its data with all of the major Federal databases, and with NDIC, FINCEN, EPIC, TNIS and the JDIG.
  6. The Drug Gang Network (DGNET): Identify, monitor, disrupt and dismantle the activities and membership of criminal drug gangs operating in the greater Houston area. Additionally, address the violent crime associated with drug trafficking in the Houston HIDTA. The linked utilization of a specifically designed software program, the Suspect Image Database (SID) is the foundation of their operation. The database is incorporated as another asset of the JDIG.
  7. Violent Crime Initiative (VCI): Structured to reduce the violence associated with drug trafficking through the identification, arrest and prosecution of those violent criminals using firearms to further their drug-related activities.
  8. Joint Drug Intelligence Group (JDIG): Organized to deliver accurate and timely strategic, organizational, and tactical intelligence on drug related criminal activity within the Houston HIDTA that is consistent with the goals and objectives of the National Drug Control Strategy, responds to the Houston HIDTA Threat Assessment and provides for the effective and efficient use of counter-drug resources. The focal point of all intelligence developed by the other Houston HIDTA Initiatives.
  9. Narcotics Operation Control Center (NOCC): A deconfliction unit established to coordinate narcotic operations for all agencies involved in drug law enforcement in the Houston area, to promote officer safety and prevent agency overlap or conflict in investigations.
  10. Texas Narcotic Information System (TNIS): Maintains and provides a variety of statewide databases of criminal and non-criminal information for all federal, state and local agencies, as well as all HIDTA Initiatives, vital to their investigations. Further, it offers detailed analytical support of those cases. TNIS is an integral part of the Southwest Border States Anti-Drug Information System project that will ultimately link all the data bases from Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.
  11. Post Seizure Analysis Team (PSAT): A collocated, multi-agency team that concentrates on the collection of information and evidence left behind in terminated investigations/seizures of all agencies. It continuously compares all collected data to identify relationships, commonality, and linkages in an attempt to identify organizations responsible for the transportation of drugs/currency. PSAT develops case packages that are subsequently offered to HIDTA Initiatives/agencies and /or other law enforcement agencies throughout the nation for further development.
  12. Beaumont Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC): Jefferson County was added to the Houston HIDTA region in late 1999. Law enforcement leaders in the area demonstrated that this county and the surrounding counties, which straddle the southern-most interstate coast-to-coast highway in the United States, is a key region in overseeing both the land transportation route and the eastern-most ocean coastline in Texas. This collocated, multi-agency task force effort will concentrate on: 1) Delivering accurate and timely tactical and organizational intelligence on drug related criminal activity within the eastern sector of the Houston HIDTA that is consistent with the goals and objectives of the National Drug Control Strategy; 2) Collection and dissemination of intelligence data acquired from arrestees in their area; 3) Collection, dissemination and coordination of investigation information emanating from money seizures in the area; 4) Offering detailed analytical support of those cases; 5) Establishing and maintaining a deconfliction unit to coordinate narcotic operations for regional agencies involved in drug law enforcement in the Jefferson County area, to promote officer safety and prevent agency overlap and conflict in investigations
  13. City of Baytown/Administration Initiative: Supports the office of the Director in the management of grant funds destined to maintain the administrative office of the Houston HIDTA.

Outcomes:

The effectiveness of the investigation groups, through the cooperative spirit of the HIDTA program, has caused criminal organizations to change the ways they are operating. The result is that Houston HIDTA is continually looking at new methods to meet the public safety needs created by the drug threat. Participation in the Southwest Border Initiative's "Operation Cobija" has enhanced cooperation among the HIDTAs, and has led to improving intelligence sharing with non-HIDTA agencies. The special "Club Drug/Rave Party" investigative effort and study brought the existence of the "rave" culture to the attention of the entire Houston HIDTA law enforcement community, highlighting the concept that criminal activity occurs even without a complainant. Continuing compliance audits by the HMLI serves to ensure new wire transmitter companies conform to state and federal laws. Participation in other agencies' training events, including those brokered by the HIDTA Assistance Center, helps provide a more comprehensive understanding of policies and technical procedures and trends, for efficiency and safety in tactical and administrative functions. Violent gang activities are decreasing, attributed in part to the expanded use of the Houston HIDTA initiated and funded Subject Image Database, now in use in more than 40 cities nationwide. New state legislation has been introduced over the years, as a result of HIDTA cases, including laws governing money wire businesses and the sale of paint thinners and other potential inhalants to minors. Officer safety bulletins are distributed nationally.

Participating Agencies:

Federal: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Department of Defense, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Internal Revenue Service, United States Attorneys Office, United States Customs Service, United States Coast Guard, United States Marshals Service

State: Texas Department of Banking, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas National Guard, Texas Office of the Attorney General

Local: Beaumont Police Department, Chambers County Sheriffs Office, Corpus Christi Police Department, Hardin County Sheriffs Office, Harris County Sheriffs Department, Houston Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriffs Office, Nueces County Sheriffs Office, Orange County Sheriffs Office, Pasadena Police Department

Other: City of Baytown

Information is provided by Houston HIDTA.



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