Cochise County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Staff Mark Napier, seen in this photo from January, recently discussed the Operation Stonegarden grant program.

BISBEE — On the one hand, having deputies involved with the federal Operation Stonegarden program out and about in rural areas is a good thing; on the other hand, the additional pay Cochise County Sheriff’s Office deputies get for the overtime they work adds to the county’s debt to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System.

In a time when budgets are tight, the ever growing burden of meeting the county’s obligation to pay down the $37 million debt to PSPRS and keep up with annual contributions has Cochise County Supervisors Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby in a bind. Adding to the debt is not a pleasing thought when trying to meet all the county’s needs.

Even so, in Tuesday’s meeting, all three supervisors approved a total of $811,164 in OPSG (Stonegarden) grants as requested for the sheriff’s office for the coming year. The grant covers $422,220 for overtime salaries, $269,207 for employee-related expenses and mileage while deputies are on OPSG duty and $69,736 for more license plate readers and a density meter/X-ray machine to see into the bodies of vehicles for drugs.

In a work session last Friday, county Budget Manager Daniel Duchon said for every dollar of OPSG received, the county pays out $5.

Cochise County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Staff Mark Napier said there were the problems with the assumption, such as basing it on the life expectancy of the retirees. Napier said the life expectancy of law enforcement officers is lower than the public.

OPSG funds come from the Department of Homeland Security and are used for law enforcement personnel, overtime pay, general purpose equipment and travel and lodging for the deployment of state and local personnel, among other applicable activities in order to improve overall border security. Funds are distributed based on the current risk to the security of the border and the effectiveness of the proposed projects, according to the DHS.

Sheriff Mark Dannels stated in a document, “Funding allows the Sheriff’s Office to strategically deploy additional personnel resources to deter, locate, arrest and/or detain persons involved in the trafficking of humans and illegal narcotics. The overtime and mileage funding also allow the Sheriff’s Office to deploy additional personnel resources to remote areas of our 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. The funding under this program significantly enhances law enforcement visibility and presence in corridors exploited by transnational criminal organizations. This would not be possible without this funding due to current staffing. This presence not only deters transnational crime (human and drug trafficking) but also serves to deter other criminality and public disorder to the benefit of all our citizens.”

He said deputies “have no authority to enforce federal immigration laws. The CCSO has neither the resources, nor the inclination, to accept responsibility for securing our international border. That being stated, transnational crime threats in the form of drug and human trafficking do have an adverse impact on public safety in Cochise County. It allows us to deploy additional CCSO resources, with federal funds rather than local taxpayers’ funds, to ensure we address public safety threats to our citizens occurring due to our proximity to the international border.”

The Sheriff’s Office did agree to hold the OPSG assignments to one per deputy per pay period.

During the regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, CCSO deputy Lt. Kenny Foster pointed out the funds allows the deployment of deputies to provide about 15,000 hours of additional law enforcement presence in the county, adding to the security of the rural and remote areas.

Napier and Foster believe there are risks of not only an increase in illegal drug and human smuggling, but also a heightened risk of the spread of COVID–19 from those who do cross illegally.

Judd noted people in her district were alarmed and think the policy of the Biden Administration on immigration will bring an influx of undocumented migrants into the county.

“There are real policy changes driving that alarm,” added Judd. “This is not a time because of the federal policy changes to refuse the grant. We need to keep this funding for the next year.”

English did not subscribe to the fear being generated about the border and increased human and drug smuggling coming into Cochise County.

There was no concerted effort to deny the grant by English and Crosby. They both voiced concerns with the growing PSPRS debt and how the monies were being tracked. Crosby ran on a platform that included tackling the massive debt.

English pointed out the importance of the county Finance Department handling the OPSG grant along with all the other grants the county receives from the state and federal government.

“We have a significant number of grants to track,” English said. “The county then has to provide money up front every year and wait for it to come back in. We have to know how much is coming in and going out.”

The supervisors unanimously agreed to continue OPSG and approved the grant.

Crosby asked an executive session be held to discuss the CCSO strategy for implementation when engaged in OPSG and asked to see an accounting of where the money comes from and where it goes.

“I want the taxpayer to get the most of their money,” he said. Then he asked, “Are we trading liberty for security?”