Patrolling The Border: Virtual Deputies

When you see video of illegal immigrants coming into this country, what do you immediately assume they're carrying? What's in their bags?

When Robert Havercamp, a truck driver from South Texas, sees them on his computer screen, he says: "I don't know what's in those duffle bags but it's a good, strong possibility …"

"…that it's clothes?" CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman asked.

"It could be clothes. It could be marijuana. It could be cocaine. It could be methamphetamine. Or it could be a bomb," he said. "We were invaded in 2001; you want that again?"

Regardless of whether you think Hartman is naïve, or Havercamp is paranoid, this is a story that will astound you.

It's about a new secret weapon: a way for concerned citizens like Havercamp to take on illegal immigrants and drug smugglers from the comfort of their kitchens.

On the Internet, you can now monitor 15 different cameras aimed at 15 different sections of the Texas-Mexico border. If you see something, you write something.

Your report goes to a sheriff's deputy who in turn dispatches the appropriate authorities.

Havercamp says it is results like that that keep him vigilant.

"Sometimes I'll pull an all-nighter, because the bad guys gonna wait 'til late at night to do anything," Havercamp said.

And if he goes to sleep, "they could easily get in the country," Havercamp said.

"That's a lot of pressure to put on yourself," Hartman said.

"No, that's dedication," he said.

Donald Reay, who oversees the project, said: "Yes, we call those folks virtual deputies."

Reay runs the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition - which got a $2 million federal grant to put up the cameras and run the Web site for a year. It's been a couple months and already 35,000 people have registered as virtual deputies.

Check out the BorderWatch at BlueServo.net.
And yet - so far the program has only produced eight arrests and four drug seizures.

Not much bang for the buck.

"But I'm so convinced that this is one tool, in the overall program, that is money well spent," Reay said.

Havercamp sure isn't ready to give up. He's dispatches deputies almost daily. Although it's hard to say exactly how much safer he's making us.

"What I saw that day was a lot of buzzards circling - and going right down to the ground right here. That's telling me there's something dead there.

"It could be a rabbit," Hartman offered.

"It could be an animal of any sort," Havercamp said. "It could be a person."

Paranoid? Maybe. Patriotic? Unabashedly.
  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.

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