BISBEE — The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office will receive a total of $446,552 from two Operation Stonegarden grants which allow for the continuation of assistance to the U.S. Border Patrol in apprehending drug and human smugglers.
During the April 19 meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Lt. Ken Foster asked board members Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby for approval and received it.
The purpose of the grant program is to provide “CCSO personnel to participate in coordinated and targeted public safety operations to detect, deter and arrest subjects who traffic humans and drugs illegally into the country, said Foster. “The trafficking of humans and illegal drugs into Cochise County has a clear and compelling detrimental impact to the safety of the citizens of the county.”
On a daily basis, deputies are apprehending people who migrated here illegally, as has been reported in the Herald/Review.
Foster said, “This allows work for the deputies so we can combat this problem. It’s a growing problem. The overtime and mileage funding are utilized in coordination with our federal law enforcement partners, primarily the U.S. Border Patrol, to identify and deter the trafficking of humans and illegal drugs into the United States, specifically into Cochise County. These activities adversely impact public safety of the citizens of our county.”
The funding allows the Sheriff’s Office to “strategically deploy additional personnel resources to deter, locate, arrest and detain persons involved in the trafficking of humans and illegal narcotics,” added Foster. It deploys more deputies to remote areas of the county that are traditionally underserved, such as Portal.
“Often, regular duty personnel are not as available to have a presence in these areas due to the volume of calls for service in more populated areas,” said Foster. “The funding under this program significantly enhances law enforcement visibility and presence in corridors exploited by transnational criminal organizations.”
The added security for rural areas would not be possible without Stonegarden funding due to current staffing, he continued. The law enforcement presence deters transnational crime of human and drug trafficking, but also serves to deter other criminality and public disorder to the benefit of all our citizens. The deployment of additional personnel with federal grant funds makes available, at a moment notice, more personnel to address critical public safety incidents.
Foster reasoned, “There is a clear and compelling public safety reason for the Sheriff’s Office continued participation in Operation Stonegarden. U.S. citizens are being hired to transport undocumented immigrants from our communities to the Tucson and Phoenix areas. They are being directed to drive erratically through our communities to avoid being stopped and arrested by law enforcement. Monies from this grant are being utilized to pay for the additional deputies overtime to assist Border Patrol with this dangerous issue.”
The CCSO has participated in the Operation Stonegarden Grant Program for many years. In the past, there have been concerns the overtime deputies receive from the program would add to the already massive Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS) unfunded liability which last year was $36,750,774.
Crosby asked, “Does this grant have an adverse impact on the unfunded pension liability which my colleagues approved a 0.2% tax increase for the past two years?”
Foster said he did not have that information on hand, but he would look into it.
Judd suggested the multiple thwarted attempts by deputies in the Safe Streets Task Force should eventually lead to word about the county’s crackdown reaching the cartels and may influence future illegal crossings.
“The idea we’re on top of it and getting it done will get out there,” she said. “I watch your Facebook page and it scares me.”
English was concerned for the health of deputies who may work too many hours in the day and the possibility of deputies signing up for too much overtime.
“Look at employee health,” English said. “Keep it balanced.”
One grant provides $434,672 for county deputies on overtime and EREs, Foster said.
The other includes $11,880 for the purchase of equipment necessary to support operations under the grant program.