High-Tech Surveillance Towers Improve Border Patrol in Arizona

After many delays and high profile budget issues, officials in Arizona have announced 52 new surveillance towers designed to make border patrol more thorough and effective. Seven of the towers have already been constructed in Nogales, AZ, south of Tucson, with several more scheduled to be built in Douglas and Sonoita in January 2016.

The towers are outfitted with radar, daylight cameras, and infrared cameras for nighttime recording. The security equipment is installed on 80-foot towers in the hills surrounding Nogales, allowing patrol agents to monitor areas they previously couldn’t.

These towers are the final phase of a security initiative in Arizona. Previously, equipment existed in the form of underground sensors and mobile units. There were also towers in urban areas, although they only feature the cameras, not the radar sensor.

Installing these new towers on the border allows for nearly complete awareness, granting high-resolution video of incoming people. The cameras can see whether or not incoming people have backpacks or weapons, or if they are driving vehicles.

The security technology accounts for about 90% of illegal traffic. Smugglers often make attempts to dodge the cameras, forcing the mobile patrol units to keep a sharp eye out for new tactics.

Some residents of Nogales are concerned about the potential of these towers to invade their privacy. With such enormous reach, they are useful for stopping illegal traffic, but not all residents are supportive of what they see as a growing military outpost.

Jose Verdugo, one of the patrol operators in Nogales, assures residents that there is no intention of invading the privacy of American citizens. There are multiple agents and a supervisor operating each tower, creating a system of accountability. Nevertheless, residents dislike how the towers in their city, which depends on tourism, create an air of militarization.