March 10--MCALLEN -- It's been months since criminals have flung dangerous spikes out the windows of their vehicles as they flee police during high-speed chases, several law enforcement agencies in western Hidalgo County reported.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw was the first to point out what appears to be a dying trend along the Rio Grande Valley's U.S.-Mexico border, where more than 250 such incidents were reported in 2010 and 2011.
"Actually it's been a while since we've seen spiking incidents," said U.S. Border Patrol spokeswoman Rosalinda Huey. "We may not have seen any this fiscal year."
The federal agency's fiscal year began October 2011 -- a month after a new state law prohibiting the use, creation and sale of the tire-deflating devices went into effect.
The Texas Senate unanimously passed SB1416 in April 2011, which was introduced by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. The state law makes the crime a state-jail felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
"I don't know whether or not it's the law," said Palmview Police Chief Chris Barrera. "There's a law that says you can't transport narcotics and that doesn't stop them, but maybe the law is helping."
Smugglers caught along the border, usually in Western Hidalgo County, began deploying them as early as 2008, but their use skyrocketed in the past two years.
Penitas Police Chief Roel Bermea also noticed the decrease, he said. Oddly enough, however, the number of chases has not changed much.
"The chases continue," he said. "They've been continuous, but we haven't seen the spikes."
Officers, however, remain on alert, they said. Trends tend to begin and end without notice, and officers don't plan to be caught off-guard.
Naxiely Lopez covers law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956)683-4434.