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Media Academy is firsthand look at BP tools
I know I'm not going to be getting a gun, badge or the keys to a patrol vehicle at the end of this week's Border Patrol Media Academy, but I'm learning a lot more about the agency’s operation.
For instance, according to Chief Patrol Agent Paul Beeson, the Yuma Sector is the only one among the 20 sectors within the Border Patrol right now that can claim "operational control" of its border with Mexico, which is unparalleled in the history of the Border Patrol.
"We have been able to clamp down on a sector that was once considered to be out of control," Beeson said of the achievement.
The Yuma Sector's border with Mexico stretches 126 miles, beginning at the Imperial Sand Dunes in California and continuing all the way to the Pima County line, including 21 miles of river border.
Beeson said the Yuma Sector, thanks to the proper combination of infrastructure, technology and personnel, has the capability to detect, classify, identify and respond to any type of border incursion.
Not only can Yuma Sector agents detect when someone crosses the border, they can also track that person as they make their way into the interior of the country.
"Our goal is not just to catch anyone who is attempting to cross the border illegally, but to make certain they do not attempt to enter," said Yuma Sector spokesman Ben Vik, who was one of the instructors.
To help give us reporters who cover public safety a better understand what it takes to serve and protect our country's newsmaking border, the Yuma Sector is hosting the academy for members of the media, which I am attending along with reporters from KSWT and KYMA.
Tuesday morning's first-day sessions covered the agency's 85-year history, its national strategy and field operations. It ended at noon after a tour of the Yuma Station.
Other sessions later in the week will include a tour of the border, lessons in sign-cutting, air and marine ops, checkpoint operation, use of force and a firearms course.
You don't have to be a member of the media to learn what agents do every day and how they operate, though. The Yuma Sector Border Patrol is hosting another Citizen’s Academy beginning early next month.
The agency conducts the academy once a year and began offering them about four years ago. The next academy is set to begin March 4. Only 20 applicants will be accepted, so it is advised to sign up early.
Classes will meet every Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. for four weeks at the Yuma Sector headquarters. Anyone interested in participating can call the Yuma Sector Public Affairs Office at 341-6520 to request an application.
During our overview meeting with Chief Beeson, he spoke about how the Yuma Sector is the best example of implementing the agency's national strategy.
While other Border Patrol sectors are still struggling to forge relationships with the other law enforcement entities in their area, Beeson praised the federal, state, local, tribal and foreign law enforcement organizations within the Yuma Sector's area of operation for their willingness to establish partnerships and maintain open lines of communication.
"The level of cooperation we have here between law enforcement agencies is unparalleled," Beeson said. "We are fortunate because the law enforcement agencies in our sector realize the importance of these partnerships and want them just as much as we do."
Since fiscal year 2005, there has been a 94 percent decrease in apprehensions of illegal aliens in the Yuma Sector.
Interestingly, fiscal year 2005 was also the busiest year in the history of the Yuma Sector, with agents making 138,000 arrests. Comparatively, in fiscal year 2009, there were only 6,951.
So far this fiscal year, which began in July, the Yuma Sector has seized 14,993 pounds of marijuana, 246 pounds of cocaine and 65 pounds of methamphetamine.
Also in fiscal year 2005 there were only 350 agents working along the border in the Yuma Sector. Today there are 930. Also that same year there were 2,700 vehicle incursions into the country from Mexico, while today it is a rarity.
"It is still happening, but nowhere near the level it used to," Beeson said.
Beeson added while apprehensions are up 40 percent this fiscal year compared with last year, more than half of the 2,528 individuals who were apprehended did not enter the country in the Yuma Sector's area of responsibility.
While apprehended in the Yuma Sector, Beeson explained, a majority of those apprehended crossed either in California or the Tucson Sector, but were later caught in this sector.
Another key element in gaining operational control along the border in the Yuma Sector has been the implementation of Operation Streamline.
On Dec. 4, 2006, the Yuma Sector began Operation Streamline to eliminate border violence and cross-border activity that was prevalent back then.
Under the program, the Yuma Sector was designated a "zero tolerance" zone, and illegal aliens apprehended in the sector are prosecuted for entering the country illegally. In fiscal year 2009 there were 1,877 prosecutions as part of Operation Streamline and so far in fiscal year 2010 there have been 574.
Some other interesting information many may not know about the Yuma Sector: It's infrastructure includes 63.5 miles of primary fencing, nine miles of secondary fencing, 8.3 miles of tertiary fencing, nearly 45 miles of vehicle barriers and 1.72 miles of permanent lighting.
The Yuma Sector has three stations. The Yuma Station is responsible for 61 miles of border in Arizona and California and has 492 agents.
The Wellton station is responsible for 65 miles of border in Arizona and has 301 agents.
The third station is the Blythe Station, which has 137 agents and is responsible for southeastern California, western Arizona and all of the state of Nevada.
Also, there are 24 video cameras spread out along the Yuma Sector, starting in Andrade. While there aren't any video cameras in the remote deserts, the Border Patrol uses mobile surveillance systems and scope trucks.
Click on the links below to read more on this media academy series: