DPS unveils new, high-powered patrol boat for border operations




Posted on December 8, 2011 at 10:47 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 8 at 10:47 PM

AUSTIN, Texas -- It's been over a year since Mexican pirates armed with automatic weapons gunned down David Hartley, an American jet-skiing with his wife on Falcon Lake.

The senseless casualty remains part of a vicious war for control of the international border. In fact, some 40,000 Mexican civilians are believed to have died since their government adopted a harder stance against the powerful drug cartels five years ago.

Now U.S. border security is almost synonymous with national security, and on Thursday, Texas unveiled a new tool.

"Our adversaries, the Mexican drug cartels, are leveraging military tactics and weaponry and terrorist tactics," explained Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven C. McCraw.

The solution is a new weapon aimed to stop smugglers and criminals before they reach Texas' shores. At 34-feet long, powered by three 300 horsepower engines and armed with six machine guns, the "JD Davis" resembles a military patrol boat.

"If we're going to combat this type of threat, we have to ensure we have the equipment to do so," said McCraw.

The $580,000 shallow water interceptor can patrol in just 12 inches of water and is the first of a planned fleet of six such vessels comprising the newly-created Highway Patrol Tactical Marine Unit.

Each vessel will be named after a DPS trooper killed in the line of duty. Jerry Don Davis was shot and killed in 1980, and the first cruise of his namesake vessel was taken by members of his family.

"Every time somebody sees the name, they're going to think about JD," said DPS Lt. Colonel and former partner David Baker. "They may not have known who he was, but they'll think about him."

One of the boat's first stops will be the Rio Grande.

According to DPS, one of the roles of the Tactical Marine Unit will be to target "splashdowns," where smugglers crash vehicles full of drugs or weapons into the water, then transport the illegal cargo to the other side.

Texas State Representative Paul Workman has seen the DPS at work on the Texas and Mexico border, and said the new capability comes at a critical moment.

"They're finding out when those people are coming across, and one of the things they need to be able to do is interdict them on the water," said Workman.

"If you're trying to suppress organized smuggling activity, there's no substitute for putting people on the ground," said McCraw. "The way they're operating right now, you need them on the water as well."

Now with its maiden voyage over, the real test will soon begin.