Rolling Stone tells the story of the Panama Unit in Mission, Tx., on the Mexico border. Police officer Jonathan Treviño, 28, headed a special task force that drew from the county sheriff’s office and the city police department. The official name was an interagency jumble (Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office – Mission Police Department Local Level Drug Unit) – but everyone called them the Panama Unit. In reality, Treviño’s unit operated one of the most efficient drug-robbery rings in Texas, taking money from some dealers and traffickers while using their police weapons and police cars to rob others.
“These guys were outlaws,” one former Hidalgo County deputy says. Adds another, “They were running around like that movie Training Day.” They started off stealing ounces of weed and eventually stole so much they attracted the attention of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the Texas Rangers, not to mention at least one revenge-seeking gang. The Panama Unit’s crimes were a black eye on border law enforcement, especially the majority of officers who are honest cops. The case raised questions about who is being enlisted and what resources are being devoted to fighting the nation’s drug war. Until it was exposed, the unit was seen as an example of what local drug enforcement was doing right.