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On the border, cooperation is key in law enforcement; Federal agents often assist Sheriff's Office when more advanced equipment is needed

Living on an international border has its benefits.

One that has become more clear in recent years is the availability of U.S. Border Patrol agents who provide help to local police.

But it's not just the people; it's also the technology employed to secure the borders that is finding its way into the hands of authorities who use it to to keep neighborhoods safe.

"Some of their equipment is better than ours, absolutely," said Niagara County Undersheriff Michael Filicetti. "If [the Border Patrol] is already up in the air, we use their helicopter instead of calling out our own. It's a great mutual aid type of thing. All of the police agencies work together, but it really works well with a federal agency."

On Feb. 19, a hand-held scanner with forward looking infrared -- FLIR -- technology was used to assist the Niagara County Sheriff's Office in its late-night search for two Rochester men suspected in a series of area burglaries. With U.S. Border Patrol assistance, officers were able to observe the heat signatures of both suspects, Leslie T. Luxon, 39, and Donald M. Walls, 32, and assisted in their arrests. They have been charged with third-degree burglary for their suspected role in a series of copper burglaries in the Wilson area.

Filicetti said available technology is one of the benefits of working with a federal agency.

"We try to keep up, but they are always willing to help us out, and if they need help, we are there to help them out."

"We respond to all threats in and around the border. All cross border activity. And we assist local police agencies whenever we can," agreed U.S. Border Patrol Field Operations Supervisor Christopher Buskey. "Every time they ask, we assist, and of course they reciprocate."

Buskey said his agency's video surveillance scope technology, "ReCon III," is regularly called upon to assist in gorge searches on both sides of the border.

ReCon III, which looks like giant binoculars on a satellite truck, is nondescript when folded down into the bed of an unmarked white Ford 350 pickup. But when it goes into service, agents are able to raise the viewing technology to 26 feet and use the the latest military-grade heat-sensing and thermal-imaging technology to view objects.

Agents use a joystick, which looks and operates like an average video game controller, to navigate the scope from side to side and zoom in to view objects up to two miles away. The scope also has access to both day and night vision, using FLIR technology to look for heat signatures.

"It takes several hours to train an agent to use [a piece of equipment like this] to their best ability. We focus on what to look for," Border Patrol Agent Larry Dickson said.

Buskey called it an "agent multiplier," allowing one agent to run a camera and be able to see what used to take three or four agents. He said the technology has also gotten much better with scopes that are twice as high, offering better picture clarity and better night vision.

"Years ago, in the late 1980s and early '90s, it took half an hour to look for a high point to set up to look for something. Now it only takes a few minutes to raise up. And sometimes that's all you have," Buskey said. "With the interstate and Thruway along the border, we only have few seconds before a car can jump onto one of the interstates and be gone."

The portable hand-held technology, such as night vision goggles and scanners, are much more covert and mobile than the scope.

"Our agents go under cover of darkness all the time," Buskey said.

"We have also been called on by Niagara Regional Police [in Ontario] and State Parks Police to respond to people who have got lost in the gorge in midnight hours. We take this technology out and see if we can see anyone walking around," Dickson said.

He said the search is limited to looking for heat signatures and therefore cannot be used to search for anyone who is deceased.

Filicetti said the Niagara County Sheriff's Office also has backed up the Border Patrol by working with its agents on joint border security operations.

"Border Patrol agents monitor [our] channel and anytime we need help, they help us out," said Filicetti. "It's been working well. We are all on the same team."

"We go with the closest car concept. If you are dialing 911, you don't care if it is the Sheriff's [Office], State Police or Border Patrol or one of the towns or village. You just want the closest person to help you," Filicetti said.

Being part of the neighborhood and working together with local police to have eyes on the street also has other benefits.

"Technology is great, but at the end of the day it's all about the agent's observations. Technology would be useless without the agent's knowledge and experience," Buskey said.