One of the lesser known operations of the California Highway Patrol is the Border Division's "Mexico Liaison Unit." Since the CHP has no jurisdiction in Mexico, officers from this San Diego-based unit work closely with Mexican authorities in the recovery of stolen vehicles and assisting with other law enforcement issues.
The goals of the unit are to develop and maintain positive working relations with Mexican authorities in order to:
Locate and identify stolen US vehicles taken to Mexico.
Identify vehicle thieves and ensure their prosecution, either in Mexico or in California.
Provide assistance to Mexican and US authorities.
The Unit is comprised of one sergeant and six officers, all of whom are fluent in Spanish.
The Mexico Liaison Unit was originally created in 1958 and consisted of one officer. It was discontinued in the mid-70's, and reestablished in 1980 to provide a formal line of communication with Mexican officials. Maintaining these lines of communication and cooperation are essential to the CHP in performance of its role as statewide vehicle theft coordinator, because it has the primary responsibility to assist in the recovery of vehicles stolen from California and taken into Mexico.
When a stolen vehicle is located in Mexico, an investigator with the Liaison Unit notifies the owner and the law enforcement agency that filed the original stolen vehicle report. The unit then apprises all parties concerning the steps necessary to recover the vehicle, including necessary documentation, securing Consular approval and making arrangements to return the vehicle to the US border. For many years, the CHP was the only American agency that performed these duties, but recently the Arizona Department of Public Safety established a similar program patterned after the CHP's, and other agencies in Texas have established less formal arrangements with Mexican authorities.
With the assistance of Mexican officials, the Liaison Unit's investigators travel inside Mexico to act on tips from informants, private investigators, insurance agents and other sources. When an investigator finds a suspected "American stolen," Border Division is contacted for confirmation, and then Mexican authorities are requested to hold the vehicle until arrangements can be made for its return. During an average year, approximately 2,000 stolen vehicles are located in Mexico.
The CHP's excellent working relationship with Mexican officials has led to cooperation in other enforcement areas such as murders, bank robberies, kidnappings, insurance fraud and locating fugitives. Although most of the Liaison Unit's activities have been conducted in the Mexican state of Baja California North, occasionally investigators have assisted with operations in other states of Mexico, and also with Central American countries, such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Mexico Liaison Investigators have also provided stolen vehicle identification training courses to federal prosecutors and federal agents in Mexico. The training sessions generated much interest from the agents who traditionally focus only on drug interdiction and weapons violations. Although good working relations have always existed between the Mexican Federal Prosecutor's Office and the CHP, the recent training sessions have reinforced our working relationship.