Hidalgo County will never have to take a “baby step” again, according to the Sheriff’s Department which is anticipating significant resources for law enforcement as a result of federal funding.

On Monday U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, along with Hidalgo County Judge JD Salinas and Sheriff Lupe Treviño announced more than $346,000 in federal funds to boost law enforcement in the area.

In a formal check presentation at the Sheriff’s Citizens Academy in north Edinburg, Cuellar emphasized a coordinated effort and additional resources for the border region.

Funding included a $75,000 earmark secured by Cuellar and Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program in the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act.

“We have things that we have that we need to make sure we fund. We put in other areas that remain for education and healthcare, but our next trend is to supplement more money in enforcement along the border and certainly I think you are going to see a lot more coming in,” Cuellar told reporters following the announcement.

Cuellar has been a strong advocate of the Merida Initiative, which is a three-year plan aimed at supplying the Mexican government with an estimated $1.4 billion in technology, training and equipment. Last month, Cuellar also proposed a bill in the House that would create a multi-agency task force aimed at protecting U.S. cities from the escalating violence in Mexican border towns.

The bill would allocate $10 million annually for the task force, which he said would simply coordinate with federal, state and local officials to ensure that all are addressing a possible spillover in violence in the most efficient way.

Cuellar said there is now a “golden opportunity” to work with Mexico, where officials out of necessity have approached the U.S. to combat increased violence on their side of the border.

“In the past they didn’t want to work with us, they said ‘it’s a sovereign country, thank you very much, we will take care of our issues’,” Cuellar said. “Now because out of necessity, they want to work with us, and we need to make sure we work with them and cooperate with them, whether it’s the sharing of intelligence or working in other ways.”

An additional $231,308 loan and grant through the Department of Agriculture will be used with county funds to purchase a state of the art 2010 Chevrolet Crime Scene Investigation Unit, and two 2009 Ford F150 Crew Cabs.

The CSI unit will be the only one of its kind south of Dallas, according to Sheriff Treviño. The “evidence gathering” vehicle will facilitate the detection of fluids at a crime scene, for example blood, to be sent to crime labs but will not be a crime lab in itself, Treviño said.

The vehicle, which could be implemented on crime scenes within 90 to 180 days, will eventually integrate the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) initially installed in jails but sent wirelessly to the unit for immediate identification of a suspect.

“We are never going to take a baby step again,” Treviño said, referring to impending upgrades in his department.

About 25 percent of the matching USDA grant is coming from the Sheriff’s own asset forfeiture fund which amounts to $93,000, according to Judge Salinas. The plan takes zero from the general fund, and makes sure that more resources are provided for our taxpayers to make sure they feel secure, Salinas said.

The County approved and authorized the hiring of more than 20 officer positions via the COPS Hiring Recovery grant at its Commissioner’s meeting on March 31.

“We are going to do everything we can. It’s strange that we are getting a grant from the USDA, but we don’t really care where the sources of funding come from, as long as it’s good for the County of Hidalgo we are going to go after the funding,” Salinas said.