Townhall, October 19, 2023
COLONY RIDGE, LIBERTY COUNTY Texas – Something new besides explosive growth is happening in this Texas enclave of some 50,000-75,000, perhaps the largest illegal immigrant settlement in America hundreds of miles inland from the completely overrun southern border:
On October 5, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered a significant surge of Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and criminal investigators to fan out over the 60-square-mile unincorporated Colony Ridge 40 miles northeast of Houston for the first significant policing in the colony’s 10 years of nonstop growth.
The verdict after two weeks of saturation state police patrols years after population far-outstripped Liberty County Sheriff Office staffing: They love it, a number of people told me during a Saturday night ride-along with Texas Highway Patrol officers.
“We feel safer, with less wild people,” said Carolina, an entrepreneur selling roasted corn concoctions in a gas station parking lot. Out of gratitude, she had just refused payment by a Texas trooper who was taking a break from backing another trooper on a traffic stop.
“Before [the Texas surge], it was too much noise going on with a lot of gun shots… a lot of bad driving, and we don’t go out from the house to do much stuff around in this neighborhood.”
Because there weren’t enough police, I interjected?
“No, not enough. Not enough,” Carolina said. But now, I asked?
“Right now, we see a lot of cops. We appreciate it. We appreciate it a lot around here.”
I and national media had quoted legal and illegal residents, business owners, school officials, as well as local sheriffs complaining about general lawlessness in the policing void, Mexican cartel activity, and a vast community expansion now underway that would accommodate thousands of the new strangers now pouring over the southern border in the largest mass migration in U.S. history. A mere two or three Liberty County sheriff’s deputies might be assigned to this restive community on any given shift, an extremely low policing level complemented by no substantial investigative or intelligence collection capability to jumpstart organized crime cases.
In addition to the ground action now underway in the self-titled “colonia,” Abbott seemed to suggest that other communities like it are now cropping up elsewhere when he called a special legislative session. In the coming weeks, he’s asked state legislators to consider whether to do more “concerning public safety, security, environmental quality, and property ownership in areas like the Colony Ridge [author’s emphasis]” as millions of foreign nationals entering over the border look for space to live.
For the time being, between 30 and 50 Texas Highway Patrol officers in black and white Chevy Tahoe suburbans hunt traffic violators day and night. The state also has thrown in criminal investigations division agents to suss out organized criminal activity like gang- and cartel-related cases. Undercover officers in plain clothes conduct public surveillance looking for crime.
There’s no hard data this early on in the Texas campaign far from the border, but Lt. Craig Cummings, the public information officer assigned my escort, said the state police have seized drugs, arrested fugitives, suppressed drunken reckless driving, vehicle crashes, and probably sent really bad guys fleeing to less hostile territory. State police are not asking about immigration status but are noting how many are driving without licenses, an indicator of illegal presence. Asked if cartel associates work in Colony Ridge, Cummings responded: “We know that the cartels are operating here. They’re not operating in an overt way. It’s not that you’ll see them, but they’re here.”
Eventually, major drug trafficking or human smuggling cases may emerge as criminal investigators work intelligence information and informants.
But for now, the otherwise ubiquitous nighttime recreational gunfire that all who live here describe was absent this night, other than five or six rounds I heard as the troopers helped sheriff’s deputies check on a raucous party. During the Saturday night shift, the troopers pulled over a dozen drivers, citing or issuing warnings for driving without licenses.
“The law enforcement effort in this area is making an impact,” Cummings explained about the usual nerve-wracking nightly gunfire, and more. “The troopers are noticing, just anecdotally, as they’re out there conducting their business that the crashes in the area have stopped and that anyone out driving a vehicle who decides they’re going to drink and drive knows with some degree of certainty that they’re likely to be stopped and possibly face jail time.”
So they’re behaving out here now, I asked Lt. Cummings?
“I think that the law enforcement presence is having a positive impact,” he responded. “We’re seeing that from community members mentioning that to us and so, really, it’s a win-win. We’re reducing crime not only on traffic enforcement level but also addressing things with narcotics investigations and trying to apprehend felons who are wanted for some violent offenses.”
A three-year Colony Ridge resident who gave his name as Gilbert told me lawless behavior of many kinds “was starting to get worse out here” as the community population quickly expanded as millions cross the border.
“It’s people doing stupid stuff, shooting out here, people pulling their guns,” he said. “There’s a lot that goes on over here.”
But the DPS surge has brought peace.
“They’re just keeping everything calm. So, I like it! I like it!”
Confirming reports like that hint at a starkly different Colony Ridge just weeks earlier, which I and others have described as a veritable police no-go zone, so thinly patrolled was it by Liberty County and federal agencies like ICE, which neighboring Sheriff Greg Capers said declines all requests for help with the “vast” sea of illegal immigrants in the broader region.
Colony Ridge’s developers John and Trey Harris, who provide high-interest owner-to-buyer property loans to buyers with no credit or job histories that any mainstream bank would require, have found liberal media outlets willing declare, as “right-wing conspiracy theories,” perceptions about crime and illegal immigration that a broad diversity of local residents and officials have voiced, like Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader and neighboring San Jacinto County Sheriff Capers, school officials, business owners and both legal and illegal immigrants living there. They did not respond to my request for comment about the surge.
Without evidence or fact-checking challenge, media outlets like Center Square, the liberal Texas Monthly, and the Houston Chronicle also allowed the developers to purvey a patently false claim that Colony Ridge enjoys a high officer-per-resident ratio with 12 full-time officers in total. A simple fact-check of police management studies about one common benchmark measure would have shown that policing in Colony Ridge is woeful.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police, for instance, suggests 3.4 officers for every 1,000 residents in recent years. The national average is 2.5 full-time officers per 1,000 residents, the FBI reported a few years ago.
But assuming Colony Ridge’s population is 50,000, the police-to-resident ratio would be one officer per 16,700, a terrible number for any community to suffer. At the higher population estimate of 75,000, the ratio falls to one cop per 25,000 people.
“Some reporter reported that we had a no-go zone, which is not true,” Sheriff Rader recently quipped to a radio interviewer, about me. “If you’d said, ‘a not-enough-go-zone,’ it would be accurate.”
Senior Texas officials have never said how long the Colony Ridge operation will go on.
Short of any solution at the state’s special legislative session, whatever peace the state intervention has achieved for Colony Ridge will prove short-lived as hundreds of new residents per month, many perhaps having come over the border, move in there – or into any new Colony Ridges that might be cropping up.