One size does not fit all: sheriffs disagree with Ducey’s border strike force plan

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels stands outside his vehicle in Naco, Arizona - a port of entry to Mexico. Photo by Emily Lai/Arizona Sonora News.
Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels stands outside his vehicle in Naco, Arizona – a port of entry to Mexico. Photo by Emily Lai/Arizona Sonora News.

Lack of communication, lack of transparency and lack of leadership seems to be the themes of how most county sheriffs feel toward the private course of action Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is taking with the new Arizona Border Strike Force proposal.

Many believe Duceys’ plan is to keep a promise he made during his 2014 campaign, to close our “wide-open and unprotected border.” Now he is asking the Legislature to approve “tens of millions of dollars” in order to implement the Arizona Border Strike Force in the Department of Public Safety (DPS). He argues it will “deter, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations responsible for smuggling drugs and humans into Arizona,” Ducey said.

Cochise County Sheriff Dannels drives along the Mexico border in Naco, Arizona. Photo by Emily Lai/Arizona Sonora News.
Cochise County Sheriff Dannels drives along the Mexican border fence in Naco, Arizona. Photo by Emily Lai/Arizona Sonora News.

Of the border sheriffs in Arizona only one is happy with what Ducey is proposing while the others feel they have been left out of the loop. Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels won the Ducey lottery.

Recently the governor gave $1 million to Dannels’ department to help close the communication gaps in its remote and rural areas. This funding goes toward the new communication center that should be done next summer.

Dannels is satisfied that he’s the beneficiary of Ducey’s largesse.

“If leaders can’t find innovative ways to serve the people then they shouldn’t be leaders,” said Dannels. “The status quo is not going to solve anything.”

Whether border security is Arizona’s biggest problem or not is a hotly debated topic right now that will have different opinions depending on the sheriff and their location.

However, across the board most sheriffs disagree with the governor’s overall strategy, saying it does not serve their unique needs.

“Every county is different and their needs have to be looked at differently in order to be properly addressed,” said Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos. “We don’t even know what the plan is. It honestly feels like a slap in the face.”

Yuma County Sheriff Chris Nanos stands in his office after stressing his concerns with Ducey's border strike plan. Photo by Emily Lai/Arizona Sonora News.
Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos stands in his office after addressing his concerns with Ducey’s border strike plan. Photo by Emily Lai/Arizona Sonora News.

Nanos is also vice president of the Arizona Sheriffs Association and said if Ducey actually wants to help then he should just ask instead of enforcing a plan that will be counterproductive to the overall mission.

On Nov. 30, the association sent an open letter to Ducey with all the sheriffs’ consolidated concerns stating that after years of inadequate funding Ducey should focus the money on fixing problems with its current responsibilities before implementing a whole new program.

Dannels said he supports the Ducey border strike force only if it compliments his ongoing efforts. “But if you come down to compete with the interdiction its not going to solve anything but cause headaches for everybody.”

Ducey went out of his way to praise border support from U.S. Customs and Dannels during his briefing announcing the strike force.

Cochise County Commander  Thomas Alinen proudly wears his neat uniform during work. Photo by Emily Lai/Arizona Sonora News.
Cochise County Commander Thomas Alinen proudly wears his uniform during work. Photo by Emily Lai/Arizona Sonora News.

He said for the force to be successful in this “requires multi-layered collaboration and cooperation, intelligence sharing and better communication.”

The three other border sheriffs – all Democrats – say that is the problem. They have not been contacted by Ducey.

Their first indication came at a conference with Department of Public Safety that laid out the strike force plan. “It was kind of obvious he didn’t meet with any of the Democrats. So make what you want with that,” said Nanos.

Santa Cruz Sheriff Tony Estrada agrees.

“I think his [Ducey’s] intentions are noble however the communication and transparency is lacking,” said Estrada who said Ducey’s approach is “one size fits all” which will not be successful to counties that all have different needs.

Santa Cruz County is “severely hurting,” said Estrada. As one of the poorest counties in Arizona, Santa Cruz desperately needs more resources. Since 2007 his department has had to make about a 25 to 30 percent budget cut, which led to a huge loss in officers, said Estrada.

“It’s difficult for a governor with no experience along the border to come and tell us how to do it. It’s like force-feeding us in one specific way when every county has different issues and challenges that you cant apply the same thing all over,” said Estrada.

In the letter the sheriffs association sent to Ducey, members requested the written proposal authorizing the strike force. Ducey has yet to respond.

Dannels steers his vehicle away from the entrance into Mexico. Photo by Emily Lai/Arizona Sonora News.
Dannels steers his vehicle away from the entrance that goes to Mexico. Photo by Emily Lai/Arizona Sonora News.

“I’m hoping he [Ducey] is taking that letter into consideration. It was not meant to offend so I’m hoping we can collectively get together and have the opportunity to share our ideas on the border issues and what can be done,” said Estrada.

Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot said, “it’s hard to support a plan without seeing the amount of studies that were done to come up with what they want to put together. There’s just no justification for what they’re doing.”

Other sheriffs agree.

“I don’t want to go to war with the governor’s office but don’t bring your help down here when it’s really not much help,” said Nanos.

Dannels encourages his colleges to be patient, “To all be working in harmony for our citizens, is what we’re really all doing and that is what I truly believe to be our expectation,” he said Dannels.

And Nanos has a different idea.

“If I were in his shoes I would contact all the sheriffs, bring them in a room and ask ‘what can we do to help you solve any problems you may have?” Nanos said because some of the ideas may work and some will not but “it’s called communicating.”

Emily Lai is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at emilylai@email.arizona.edu

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos. 

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