March 22, 2023 633 PM
ALPINE — This Tuesday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation El Paso Field Office held a ribbon cutting ceremony to commemorate the grand opening of its new Alpine branch — a brand new facility located just off of U.S. 90 on the west side of town that currently employs two special agents.
“We’re very proud to be here and have this building in Alpine,” said Jeffrey Downey, special agent in charge of the El Paso Field Office, following the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer led by the FBI Alpine branch’s chaplain. “You don’t see a space like this everywhere. I think it’s a demonstration of the commitment to this community that we have a standalone building – a very nice building – with FBI markings on the outside.”
In an interview with The Big Bend Sentinel following opening remarks and the ribbon-cutting, Downey offered further insight into why the agency wanted to have a permanent physical presence in the remote town of Alpine, a place he referred to as a “high risk area” within FBI El Paso’s jurisdiction due to its proximity to the Texas-Mexico border.
“Based on the threat picture in the area of various criminal matters that are going on — corruption, national security concerns at the border — the FBI decided we need to invest more resources down here,” said Downey. “Ultimately, we ended up building the building as a result of that.”
The El Paso Field Office includes two “resident agencies” — one in Midland, and now, another in Alpine, which will serve Brewster, Jeff Davis, Presidio and Pecos counties. The two special agents who are stationed in Alpine were present for the opening event, but were purposefully not identified, said Downey.
The Alpine agents will focus on the breadth of federal crimes, said Downey, including national security, cyber crime — of which the area was a target, he said — drug trafficking, crimes against children and more.
“There is a great deal of work to be done in these four different counties here,” said Downey.
A focus of the event was continued collaboration with local law enforcement — many of which were present for the ceremony, which saw around 40 attendees including Border Patrol, Drug Enforcement Administration, Brewster County Sheriff and Alpine Police Department officers.
“It’s something that needs to be stressed, our collaborative work going forward,” said Special Agent Greg Cipriano, supervisor of the Midland and Alpine resident agencies, addressing the gathered crowd. ”I look forward to the partnerships out here, working with you all on your mission and working with you to support our mission here.”
Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson, who attended the opening ceremony, said he was aware of the ongoing effort to establish a permanent FBI presence in the area, and spoke to the prior benefits of having FBI agents on the ground.
“They moved some agents here and it was easy. We could visit with them and they could come get in our cars and see what we were looking at,” said Dodson.
The sheriff’s office would continue to work with the FBI on crimes that are brought to their attention that are under federal authority, and for local cases when lab diagnostics are required, for example, said Dodson.
“It’s nice having the agents here, we know ‘em, we like ‘em. They’re very friendly, they come and visit, they don’t just hide behind these locked doors, they’re out and they actually come into our offices and ask for help from us too,” said Dodson.
While declining to share the new facility’s specific features, Downey said the building was equipped with capabilities that would be made available to other local law enforcement.
“There’s a lot of agencies down here in a remote area. It’s built for an area that we can all come and utilize it,” said Downey.
Downey said the need for an Alpine office has grown over the years. FBI agents used to commute two and a half hours to Alpine from the Midland office to work on criminal and national security cases, even after a full-time agent was assigned to the area back in 2014. In 2017, an FBI agent was stationed full time at a local Border Patrol station.
In 2016, Congress allocated $600,000 to the FBI for the new Alpine building, but there wasn’t “adequate General Services Administration” space, according to Downey, so the agency opted to build a new facility from scratch. Construction began in 2021 and wrapped up in June 2022. Downey said that despite supply chain and other delays during the building’s construction, agents continued to work on cases involving drug trafficking, child pornography, public corruption, and the Big Bend National Park child endangerment case.
While there are no expansions planned at this time, said Downey, the new FBI facility in Alpine was built to grow and could hold up to eight employees.
“We’re always reevaluating where our agents are and where the need is. This building specifically was designed for expansion and for growth so we have the ability to add more agents and more staff to this office, as we deem necessary,” said Downey.
He added that while the high security outfit was not promoting an open door policy, per se, community members would be able to file reports and talk to the local agents at the new facility, and the FBI would continue to have a presence in the community and with other local law enforcement. Event attendees were invited on a tour of the new facility Tuesday.
“This is forever,” said Downey. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Alpine Mayor Catherine Eaves attended the event and assisted both Downey and Cipriano with the ceremonial ribbon cutting, and said she was supportive of the FBI’s presence in the Alpine community.
“It shows the tremendous commitment that the FBI has for the community. We’re very grateful to have them here.” said Eaves. “Especially being close to the border, it’s important to have our law enforcement. The city supports law enforcement in every way possible.”