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Arizona budget spends millions for unwanted Border Strike Force

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Arizona budget spends millions for unwanted Border Strike Force

The new state budget deal spends millions of dollars on a new Border Strike Force created at Gov. Ducey’s request last year, but border county sheriffs say they want no part of it.

The budget appropriates a total of $26.6 million to the Department of Public Safety specifically for the Border Strike Force under its command, which is about $5 million less than Ducey’s original $31.5 million bid.

During his State of the State speech in January, Ducey called the Border Strike Force “a partnership between local, state and federal law enforcement that’s providing a force multiplier in the fight against drug cartels and border crimes.”

That partnership was rocky from the start, spurring criticisms from
remain skeptical about the Border Strike Force’s need, operational plan, effectiveness and funding.

Partners in the strike force would receive a meager $1.2 million of the total $26.6 million if they choose to participate. That $1.2 million is to be shared among all cities, town, counties and other entities joining the Border Strike Force.

Of the $1.2 million for local support, more than $700,000 will fund local law enforcement positions within the Border Strike Force. The other $500,000 will be used as grants to reimburse costs associated with prosecution and incarceration for individuals arrested by the unit.

As of now, all border county sheriffs do not plan to participate in the Border Strike Force. Reasons range from the fact that units like the strike force already exist in every border county … to a lack of communication and available personnel.

The governor originally asked for $21.5 million from the general fund and $10 million in ongoing funds. Instead, he received more than $6 million in ongoing funds and $18 million in one-time funds not including the $1.2 million for local support.

Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot called the Border Strike Force a “waste of taxpayer money.” He said there are already 14 different law enforcement agencies operating along the border in Yuma County. Another one isn’t needed.

Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos agrees. “I don’t know why they call it a strike force,” he said. “It’s just another narcotics unit.”

He added Pima County deputies already work on 10 different narcotics units working in his county with the DEA, FBI, DHS, CBP and ICE to name a few. “I don’t need 11 narcotics task forces in Pima County,” Nanos said.

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels supports his fellow sheriffs adding, “We have enough competing interests on these borders.”

Adding another border enforcement unit to the mix can get confusing, especially if there is a lack of communication, which sheriffs argue was inadequate from the start.

Meetings first began between sheriffs, DPS and the governor regarding the strike force last year.

“Every time we left those meetings, we were assured as sheriffs that there would be communication,” said Wilmot. “We have never had anyone from their command staff who is in charge of this come and sit down with us.”

Dannels said from the start Ducey and DPS had a plan, telling sheriffs what would happen, instead of asking local enforcement about border needs.

Estrada said Ducey isn’t serious about a partnership, based on how much the state is willing to fund partnering entities with only $1.2 million for local support.

“Those numbers are ridiculous,” Estrada said. “They are throwing crumbs at us.”

Sheriffs agree the money proposed for local support will not last long, based on the reported number of arrests from Border Strike Force operations, which total more than 360 arrests since September.

Using those numbers, it would cost more than $690,000 to incarcerate those arrestees for 30 days at an average $65 per day cost to house medium-security inmates. That doesn’t include costs incurred by counties for prosecution.

Estrada said, “$1.2 million won’t even take care of our needs in Santa Cruz County,” which include hiring three officers and one detective to meet staffing needs in his department alone.

In Pima County, Nanos said he needs about $7.5 million to return adequate funding to his underpaid deputies.

He argues that instead of funding a new strike force, the money should be used to refund counties for the years of sweeps to Highway Users Revenue Fund, which totaled $44 million in Pima County.

District 4 Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, tried to restore county funding by proposing an amendment to the budget that would transfer funds from the Border Strike Force directly to counties to spend on needs it deems fit.

The amendment was blocked late Wednesday night by Republicans sitting on the House Appropriations Committee.

“It is inappropriate to take funds that should go directly to the counties to create a state law enforcement project based on what the state believes the law enforcement priorities should be in respective communities,” argued Fernandez. “These folks know what’s best for their areas and can use the money to build up their budgets accordingly.”

Border sheriffs think DPS should focus on its statutory responsibilities, such as patrolling the highways and interstates, before picking up additional responsibilities along the border.

DPS currently cannot afford to run 24-hour highway patrols in counties, which is a major concern for border sheriffs.

“It’s hard for sheriffs to support this task force when they [DPS] aren’t fulfilling their mandated services and we have to do their job for them,” said Wilmot. “DPS is a support agency, we should be the ones asking them for assistance.”

David McGlothlin is the Bolles Fellow from the University of Arizona covering the legislature for Arizona Sonora News. Reach him at

“I have limited resources that have been maximized. I can’t take deputies from anywhere else and put them on a strike force. I already have a border team.” — Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels

“We will support any law enforcement effort by any law enforcement agency but we will not be a part of the strike force in terms of sending bodies to work under their command.” — Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos

“I will not be participating in this border strike force with personnel nor will I be applying for any of the money.” — Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot

“I’m short staffed to start with and can’t afford to pull one of my people away to do nothing but that. We already have a task force down here.” — Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada

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