Security was tight as hundreds of law officers from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border gathered for a three-day intelligence-sharing and training conference.
Issues vital to both countries include human and drug smuggling, cross-border violence and the illegal exportation of guns to Mexico.
About 500 officers were to attend the conference, sponsored by the Policia International Sonora-Arizona, or PISA. The conference began Monday and offers training on firearms identification, homicide investigations, prison gangs, interview techniques and auto theft investigations.
Contributing agencies include the FBI, the state Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The 23rd annual conference, held this year at the Hilton El Conquistador Resort, comes on the heels of increased violence along the border, including a drug-related shootout in Cananea that left 22 dead, including five Mexican police officers.
The incident led conference organizers to take extra precautions, said Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, whose office led the security effort.
“If anybody wanted to do any harm, all the police chiefs, the attorney generals of both states are here,” LaWall said. “This would be a place ripe for terrorism.”
Sonora Attorney General Abel Murrieta Gutiérrez, who, along with Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, gave opening remarks at the conference, said the smuggling of guns into Mexico, which tightly restricts gun sales, from the United States has fueled much of the violence.
“We have asked the United States to guarantee that the arms aren’t going to be illegal exported to Mexico,” Murrieta said. “This isn’t just Mexico’s responsibility, but both countries’.”
At least one of the weapons used in the Cananea shootout was traced to the United States.
Goddard said the conference allows law officers from both sides of the border to develop effective policing strategies.
Three years ago, Sonoran officers at the conference said they needed a better way to track stolen U.S. cars in Mexico, Goddard said.
“They would stop somebody in Mexico and suspect it was probably a stolen vehicle, but it was taking them sometimes days to find out,” he said. “They couldn’t hold anybody that long, so they need instantaneous information.”
In response, Goddard’s office developed a Web site where officers could immediately trace stolen Arizona cars. One-third of the site’s users come from Mexico, Goddard said.
“It’s been very effective,” he said.