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Cochise sheriff backs off deputizing federal agents

Pima County has cross-certified 365 to enforce local laws

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels has reversed a move to deputize six Border Patrol and Customs agents after community backlash to a recent decision to give federal agents the power to enforce local laws.

The proposal to give border agents local-level police powers, although common in other counties (including Pima), raised eyebrows with Southern Arizona ranchers and civil-rights advocates alike.

The agents are part of a new team, Southeastern Arizona Border Region Enforcement, that has federal and local lawmen working side-by-side. While the SABRE team is still functioning, the July 18 move to deputize the feds has been reversed, Dannels said.

SABRE was formed to fight "any type of illegal activity or crime that has a nexus with the border," Cochise County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Carol Capas said, and will conduct investigative and undercover work.

"The operation and the mission didn't change at all," Dannels said. "The only thing that changed was the provisional cross-certification with Border Patrol has been rescinded."

"[SABRE] is still operational, still working," Dannels said. 

Members of the 12-member unit stopped an RV near St. David early Wednesday morning, arresting the driver after finding 462 pounds of marijuana in the vehicle, Capas said.

The sheriff had pledged to form the team during his run for office last year.

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Dannels reversed course on deputizing the federal agents after some local ranchers raised concerns about giving federal agents the power to enforce local laws, the sheriff said.

Ed Ashurst, a Cochise County rancher, is one who opposed deputizing the agents.  In agreeing to speak with TucsonSentinel.com, Ashurst wanted it known that he is "pro law enforcement."

"I felt that [deputizing federal agents] is a precedent that shouldn't be set," Ashurst said.  He added that move was a "breach of the balance of power."

Complaints to the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, who approved the intergovernmental agreement that created SABRE and allowed Dannels to deputize agents, led to a meeting being scheduled to discuss the policy, Ashurst said. He claimed that upwards of 2,000 attendees would have been at the meeting. With Dannels' move, that meeting was cancelled.

A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union said the collaboration is evidence of a growing trend of the line being blurred between local and federal law enforcement.

The move is part of a "larger regime" and "is problematic in numerous respects," said James Duff Lyall, attorney for the Tucson office of the civil rights group.

"One thing that comes to mind when I see that, is if the Border Patrol is so struggling to secure the border, how is it that they have time to be full-time sheriffs?," he said.

The Board of Supervisors approved the team at a July 15 special meeting, as part of the consent agenda. The meeting's main purpose was "to pass the tentative budget," and SABRE was the only item on the consent agenda, Board Chair Ann English said via email prior to the policy being reversed. Dannels was not present at that meeting, she said.

Dannels said the local-federal team was a campaign pledge.

"I have worked in this county for over 29 years and I have seen the issues, I have listened to the people," the sheriff said before deputizing BP agents was halted. "It is a concern by many in the ranching community, obviously they are concerned about the border. There is probably not a rancher in this county that wouldn't tell you that, and number two with that nexus of the border and the fact that insecurities with the border that crime has erupted."

There were three different sets of numbers provided for the number of Border Patrol agents being assigned to SABRE. The Tucson Sector Border Patrol public affairs office released a statement saying there was one agent, a CCSO's Capas reported eight agents, and Dannels said six were to be deputized.  

The team is slated to last for five years, and will be automatically renewed each year, according to the agreement between Cochise County and the Border Patrol.

The Border Patrol did not respond to specific questions about SABRE, instead releasing an unsigned statement via email:

Tucson Sector Border Patrol frequently collaborates with other federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies in a whole of government approach to border security. Border Patrol agents participate in various law enforcement task forces as a collateral duty. This Intergovernmental Agreement identifies one agent from a station within the county who is temporarily assigned to this position for a period of one year. During this time, the agent is authorized to effectively function within the scope of operations of the agreement. No additional costs will be realized as existing resources will be used in this effort.

Pima County certified 365 to enforce state laws

Under Arizona law, county sheriffs have the authority to cross-certify federal agents to enforce local laws, and to deputize residents.

The Pima County Sheriff's Department currently has 365 federal agents who are cross-certified, 209 of whom were given certifications this year, a department spokesman said.

Not all of those agents are newly certified, said Deputy Tracy Suitt, as the process is an annual one and many of the agents are re-certified each year.

Suitt was careful to note that PCSD does not "deputize" agents, steering clear of that term. Rather, the county cross-certifies them to work in task forces with deputies, with the feds remaining under the supervision of their agencies, he said.

Agents cross-certified by PCSD include those from Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security, FBI, DEA, Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal law enforcement agencies, Suitt said.

Cross-certified agents don't receive special training in local or state laws from Pima County, Suitt said. "All that has to come from the other agencies," he said.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada just cross-certified six federal law enforcement agents on July 29, as part a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area law enforcement team under the command of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Estrada said he has been doing this for most of his career as sheriff, which began in 1993.  

Up until 2012, the HIDTA team was under the command of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office, and had deputized federal agents on it then, Estrada said.  

"They don't want to put any more on their table, is what I am saying, than they already have," Estrada said. "It is just a process that just helps them in certain circumstances, but ... the purpose is not for them to apply state law."

In Yuma County, Border Patrol K-9 units are able to hand out citations for small amount of drugs at checkpoints, said Alfonso Zavala, a spokesman for the Yuma County Sheriff's Office. One of these checkpoints was documented in a 2008 Phoenix New Times article.

Spokesmen from the Pinal County and Maricopa County sheriff's offices did not respond to requests for information on whether they cross-certify federal agents.

The ACLU raised concerns about such collaborations, noting the possibility of agents and deputies being distracted from their normal duties, a rise in racial profiling and distrust of law enforcement in the community. Duff Lyall also said the Border Patrol may use search privileges meant to be exercised near the border outside the permitted zone.

In Southern Arizona, BP agents have the authority to "... conduct warrantless searches and to do things normal law enforcement generally can't do," Duff Lyall said.  "Like they can enter private property within 25 miles of the border without any consent or warrant or anything, most law enforcement officials can't do that, you need a warrant."

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Before the move to deputize the agents was reversed, Capas indicated that they wouldn't receive any specialized training on local laws.

"[Border Patrol agents] are trained on federal immigration [law], we are trained on local and state law but together when we join our forces we — that is where the expertise comes," Dannels said. 

TucsonSentinel.com’s Dylan Smith contributed to this report.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Cochise County-Border Patrol agreement

The inter-governmental agreement with the Border Patrol, approved by the Cochise County Board of Supervisors last month, allowed Sheriff Mark Dannels to "deputize" federal agents to act as local law enforcement officers.

Among its provisions:

The Agency agrees to assign U.S. Border Patrol Agents, herein referred to as "agents," to CCSO on a full-time basis for such assignments within the purposes of this IGA, as directed by CCSO. Said agents shall be deputized with "peace officer“ status by the Cochise County Sheriff, pursuant to  1-441 and A.R.S.  13-3875. During this period of assignment, the Agency and CCSO agree to allow said agents to maintain all benefits, rights, and privileges available to said agent as if they were assigned on a full-time basis to the Agency. The assigned agents must wear either the Agency/’S uniform (official or rough duty) or civilian attire appropriate to the task being performed. The agents must abide by all of the applicable rules and regulations of the Agency, and is subject to its disciplinary process.


The Agency’s officers are to act pursuant to their federal law enforcement authorities under 8 U.S.C. §1357 and consistent with Agency rules and policies. The Agency's officers in furtherance of the Agency’s enforcement of immigration, anti-terrorism and drug laws, may actas state peace officers provided these officers receive the necessary training and certification as peace officers.

Arizona laws on cross-certification, deputizing

13-3875. Cross-certification of federal peace officers; policy; powers; qualifications; liability; records

A. The sheriff of each county shall develop and adopt a policy on cross-certification of federal peace officers, including whether cross-certification shall be permitted in that county.

B. A federal peace officer who is employed by an agency of the United States and who has completed the basic training curriculum for the officer's agency shall possess and exercise all law enforcement powers of peace officers in this state for one year, including, if directed by the officer's employer, the capability to enforce the criminal laws of this state if the federal peace officer:

1. Submits to the sheriff a written request for certification as a peace officer in this state.

2. Submits evidence that the officer has been certified as a federal peace officer, is authorized by federal law to engage in or supervise the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of a violation of federal law and is authorized by federal law to make arrests, serve warrants and carry firearms.

C. Each federal peace officer who requests cross-certification may submit to the sheriff a written request for certification as a peace officer in this state pursuant to subsection B. The cross-certification remains in effect for one year from the date on which the certification was authorized by the sheriff.

D. Neither the state nor any political subdivision is liable for any acts or failure to act by a federal peace officer.

E. The Arizona peace officer standards and training board shall maintain records of all federal peace officers who are certified as peace officers in this state.

11-441. Powers and duties

A. The sheriff shall:

1. Preserve the peace.

2. Arrest and take before the nearest magistrate for examination all persons who attempt to commit or who have committed a public offense.

3. Prevent and suppress all affrays, breaches of the peace, riots and insurrections which may come to the knowledge of the sheriff.

4. Attend all courts, except justice and municipal courts, when an element of danger is anticipated and attendance is requested by the presiding judge, and obey lawful orders and directions issued by the judge.

5. Take charge of and keep the county jail, including a county jail under the jurisdiction of a county jail district, and the prisoners in the county jail.

6. Endorse upon all process and notices the year, month, day, hour and minute of reception, and issue to the person delivering it, on payment of fees, a certificate showing the names of the parties, title of paper and time of reception.

7. Serve process and notices in the manner prescribed by law and certify under the sheriff's hand upon the process or notices the manner and time of service, or if the sheriff fails to make service, the reasons for failure, and return them without delay. When returnable to another county, the sheriff may enclose such process or notices in an envelope, addressed to the officer from whom received, and deposit it postage prepaid in the post office. The return of the sheriff is prima facie evidence of the facts stated in the return.

8. Secure, as soon as possible, the home of a deceased person located outside the boundaries of an incorporated city or town if the sheriff is unable to determine or locate the heirs or executor of the deceased person.

B. The sheriff may in the execution of the duties prescribed in subsection A, paragraphs 1 through 4 command the aid of as many inhabitants of the county as the sheriff deems necessary.

C. The sheriff shall conduct or coordinate within the county search or rescue operations involving the life or health of any person, or may assist in such operations in another county at the request of that county's sheriff, and may request assistance from any persons or agencies in the fulfillment of duties under this subsection.

D. The sheriff, in the execution of the duties prescribed in this section, may request the aid of volunteer posse and reserve organizations located in the county.

E. The sheriff may assist in the execution of the duties prescribed in this section in another county at the request of that county's sheriff.

F. The sheriff may require any prisoner who is on work release to reimburse the county for reasonable expenses incurred in connection with the release.

G. The board of supervisors of a county bordering the Republic of Mexico may adopt an ordinance pursuant to chapter 2 of this title allowing the sheriff to prevent the entry from this state into the Republic of Mexico at the border by any resident of this state who is under eighteen years of age if the minor is unaccompanied by a parent or guardian or does not have written consent for entry from a parent or guardian. The authority of the sheriff is only to prevent entry and not to otherwise detain the minor. This subsection shall not be construed to limit the authority of the sheriff pursuant to any other law. A county is not civilly or criminally liable for not adopting an ordinance pursuant to this subsection.

H. Notwithstanding section 13-3112, the sheriff may authorize members of the sheriff's volunteer posse who have received and passed firearms training that is approved by the Arizona peace officer standards and training board to carry a deadly weapon without a permit while on duty.