BISBEE — Four grants from the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs awarded to the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office totaling $14.9 million will be used to recover county costs incurred while aiding in border security.
It was approved unanimously by the Cochise County Board of Supervisors during Tuesday’s meeting.
During 2021, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office encountered a surge of unlawful crossers seen through the lens of the remote camera system set up around the county.
Sheriff Mark Dannels said, “Due to this surge, Arizona legislators introduced two bills to help Arizona border counties stem the flow of unlawful border crossers into the U.S.”
A border security fund was established with Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, which administers the funds solely aimed at preventing human trafficking, drug smuggling and terrorists from coming into the country illegally. The Sheriff’s Office plans to initiate a pilot technology program to target entire trafficking networks. This will foster law enforcement agency efficiency and interagency collaboration by identifying and thoroughly mapping a greater number of transnational criminal organizations in order to develop prosecutorial evidence in a greatly reduced time frame.
The first grant for $2.7 million will be used to beef up the county sheriff’s Southern Arizona Border Region Enforcement team, which runs an extensive real-time camera network across Arizona’s southern border from New Mexico to California with great success, Dannels said. The camera activations allow law enforcement photographic evidence and real-time intelligence for quick responses to illegal activities. Thanks to the software program COGNIAC, the team has been able to distinguish photographs of animals moving back and forth across the border from human crossers, he added.
It is estimated SABRE receives 30,000 to 65,000 photographs per week and COGNIAC filters the non-evidentiary photographs down to about 3,500 human detection pictures per week, Dannels said. SABRE uses Arizona National Guard personnel to view the photographs. Without the system, CCSO would need to at least double staffing to view all photographs.
“Once illegal activity is recognized by the camera software, SABRE will respond to the location and use optical equipment such as spotting scopes and binoculars to physically observe the subjects conducting illegal activity,” Dannels said.
A $1.1 million grant from ADEMA was awarded to the county through Dannels’ efforts in responding to state legislators request to forward a list of unmet needs to address border security concerns that began last year. Dannels compiled a list requesting additional deputies, overtime, vehicles, jail costs for inmates committing border related crimes, optics, border camera equipment and additional National Guard troops.
Dannels said the funding would allow the distribution of the camera system and software for Cochise, Pima, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties, covering a large swath of the border with Mexico.
The third grant award was for $3.7 million to be used to prevent human and drug trafficking and illegal border crossings over a four-year period from July 2021 to June 2025. This grant allows Dannels to hire five additional deputies for border operations and one project director to monitor and record the spending of funds. The positions are “critical” to the CCSO as the force attempts to ensure safety and security for the county.
Dannels said, “This agreement is truly a multidimensional expenditure of funds. It will disrupt transnational criminal organizations, document border criminal activity, locate evidence whether for humanitarian or criminal pursuits, prevent border wildland fires, prevent deadly border vehicle pursuits, aid humanitarian rescues or recovery of unlawful border crossers, aid in the recovery of deceased persons. These are complex issues being place as a burden on all residents of Cochise County due to this surge of unlawful border crossers.”
The grant will fund the purchase of one large capacity detention transport vehicle and seven new CCSO vehicles and drones for border surveillance and to search for people who get lost. It will also fund new equipment and supplies for the county search and rescue teams and mobile radios.
The final grant of $7.360 million, to be paid out over four years, is for border related crimes, prosecution and imprisonment to recover costs to the county, Dannels said.
It will reimburse the county for costs related to prosecuting and imprisoning individuals charged with drug trafficking, human smuggling, illegal immigration and other border related crimes.
Supervisor Ann English asked Dannels to provide reports on the progress of the projects and he agreed.
Supervisor Peggy Judd noted, “You have been successful since the program started in 2017. You have prevented a lot of people coming across the border. Beefing up our response time will prevent more people from coming here.”
Supervisor Tom Crosby said the word “prevent” was not adequately defined, and prevent and discourage were used seemingly interchangeable but are two different things.
He also told Dannels, “Busloads of immigrants come through our county. It’s disingenuous to say cameras stop the drug traffic.”
Dannels responded, “Disingenuous? Our men and women have worked their butts off for the security of the county. It’s the reason the state works with us in making our community safer. It’s not the sheriff’s job to stop an invasion. Only the governor can do that.”