Border Crimes Rose Sharply in '84; Aid for Patrols Sought

Times Staff Writer

Border crimes, which usually are vicious attacks on illegal aliens, increased dramatically from 1983 to 1984, with robberies up 261% and rapes up 117%, San Diego Police Chief Bill Kolender told a City Council committee Wednesday.

Kolender asked city officials to seek federal money to continue a year-old task force of police and U.S. Border Patrol officers who walk a dangerous beat in the rugged, brush-covered "no-man's land" along the Mexican border.

The police chief also asked for the creation of a task force composed of city, county and federal officials to reach long-term solutions for border crimes, including devising a permanent immigration policy.

"If the border is closed, there must be a legal, moral and economic commitment to those who must keep it that way," Kolender said. "Until there's a policy, these frustrated border patrols are just grains of sand," he said, unable to stop the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who illegally cross the border--some to commit crimes and slip back into Mexico.

Attending the hearing to support Kolender's request were Alan E. Eliason, chief patrol agent for the U.S. Border Patrol in San Diego, and U.S. Atty. Peter Nunez.

Eliason warned that the city must develop a plan for controlling border crimes before the nascent Otay Mesa industrial and commercial center is developed--or risk attacks by Mexican bandits on U.S. citizens.

San Diego's situation is rapidly approaching that of El Paso, Tex., said Eliason, who used to be sector chief there. In El Paso, "we had border police and city police officers walking foot beats in downtown" to handle the robberies, beatings and car thefts committed by illegal aliens.

"You are going to see the same thing developing as Otay Mesa develops," Eliason warned. "The robbery and beating of illegal aliens is only the tip of the iceberg to what is coming."

The city's Public Services and Safety Committee referred Kolender's report to the city staff for study. But council members expressed sympathy for Kolender's requests.

"It's gone beyond a police problem . . . It's almost as though a war zone existed" on the border, said Councilman Ed Struiksma, a former police officer.

Committee Chairman Mike

Gotch added, "There is no question in my mind that border crime is not a municipal problem. It's a federal problem, and the solution will come from the federal government, including the funding."

Afterward, Nunez said he would discuss San Diego's need for federal aid when he meets with Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese in Washington in two weeks.

But some responsibility for border crime is San Diego's, Nunez emphasized. "Like it or not, San Diego is on the border," he said. "You just can't say it's 'them' (federal officials)."

Kolender's report said the underlying problem is poverty. Adverse economic conditions in Mexico and Central America have compelled many aliens to cross illegally into the United States. And as they have arrived, furtively, on the forbidden side of the border, gangs of bandits have preyed on them.

Hoping to deter such crimes, San Diego police from 1976 to 1978 fielded a Border Crimes Task Force to patrol the area. The unit was disbanded because its work became too dangerous, the report said.

When border crimes rose sharply several years later, Eliason and Kolender on Jan. 23, 1984, created a jointly operated patrol, the Border Crime Prevention Unit. The task force is composed of a sergeant, five police officers, a supervising Border Patrol agent and five Border Patrol officers. It costs the city $365,750 a year, police Cmdr. Cal Krosch said. And its beat is still dangerous, Krosch said--the most dangerous in the city.

The men patrol on foot through rolling hills and steep, rocky canyons. There are no paved roads, although Kolender, in his request to the council, sought money to build some. Sometimes the officers use air patrols, but spotter planes don't work well in the heavy brush, the report noted.

The task force's targets are the border bandits who rob the illegal aliens. Most of the other crimes arise from a robbery, the report noted.

"Most suspects are extremely vicious and are usually armed with some type of weapon which they are not hesitant to use," the report said. "Victims of robberies are often savagely beaten, stabbed or slashed with knives and broken bottles, and shootings are becoming increasingly common.

"Since most victims do not resist their attackers, such assaults appear to be little more than violence for the sake of violence."

Crime statistics at the border can be misleading, the report noted, because the victims frequently do not contact police because they know they will be deported.

Still, the San Diego Police Department recorded 41 robberies in 1983 and 148 in 1984, a 261% increase. It recorded six rapes in 1983 and 13 in 1984, a 117% increase. Meanwhile, murders declined from four in 1983 to two in 1984, an aberration, Krosch said.

Of the 148 robberies, 139 involved a weapon, the report said. The task force arrested 81 suspects in the robberies, 43 of whom were convicted or pleaded guilty to felony charges, the report said.

A major problem for the task force is that the bandits are "increasingly violent," the report said. There have been eight shootings in the first 11 months of the patrol. One suspect was killed by officers and two Border Patrol agents were shot by bandits.

The problems were "significantly compounded" last month, Kolender's report said, when the city of San Diego annexed a four-mile section of land in Otay Mesa. The annexation triples the amount of area the task force must patrol, the report said, and police officials expect a commensurate increase in crime.

Eliason also noted that San Diego County officials are planning two developments for the border which he considers "totally inappropriate" considering the area's crime.

One is an "international Grand Prix race track" for 100,000 spectators and the other is a park for four-wheel-drive vehicles, Eliason said. In both, "the situation would be totally out of control" for keeping tabs on illegal aliens or on crimes, he said.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World