On Thursday, the decision by the Pima County Board of Supervisors to reject Operation Stonegarden funds was the topic of discussion across the country. A majority of the supervisors voted to reject the federal anti-crime grant as a repudiation of the Trump administration.
Prior to last Tuesday’s thumbs down vote, the County had accepted the funds for nearly 16 years. In fact, the supervisors, in a 3-2 vote, had agreed to accept the money earlier this year. Supervisor Ramon Valadez, who had voted in favor of the grant, demanded a reconsideration of the issue due to pressure from progressive special interests groups.
So last Tuesday, despite the fact that they have voted for the grants year after year, long time supervisors Sharon Bronson and Richard Elias supported Valadez’s move leaving law enforcement in a lurch. Supervisors Ally Miller and Steve Christy have both voted in favor of the grants.
By Thursday, the negative fallout from law enforcement and the general public was clear, and Supervisor Valadez was forced to scramble. In an appearance on Facebook Live, Valadez offered a convoluted justification for his “no” vote.
At nearly the same time, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, in an appearance on the James T. Harris radio show, explained why the cartels are thrilled with Valadez’s pro-cartel vote.
Valdez, Bronson, and Elias voted against acceptance of the Stonegarden grant due to intense pressure from illegal immigrant advocates like Isabel Garcia and Zaira Livier Serrato. Actions like this denial have led residents to question what is really behind the rejection of the crime-fighting money.
A clearly nervous Valadez told Facebook followers, “Because of the narrative that has been created nationally – that we have no control of – the question remained whether people in minority and immigrant communities could trust our officers. These are heroes, these are people we can trust, these are members of our community. So the question became – if there is something we can do – regardless of status – that would make people trust our heroes – should we do it? And the answer was finally, I think we had to. It wasn’t an easy decision because both sides had consequences that I found unacceptable, but in the end, I thought we as a community – everyone in the community should be able to trust the men and women in brown (uniforms) – our sheriff’s deputies, who are heroes in our community.”
Harris asked Lamb if the Pima County supervisors’ vote would impact the people of Pinal County. “Absolutely,” said Lamb. “I can’t believe Pima County would make that decision. Take the politics out of it, okay? This is 1.6 million; it’s probably more because Stonegarden’s grant increased this year. So that’s a lot of money to Pima County. Well, what that says to us in Pinal County is: if you’re not going to take that money then you’re not spending any extra time, you’re not working with Border Patrol, there’s no extra duty going into protecting our borders. That is inevitably going to have an effect on our county and increase the traffic into our county.”
“It’s going to have a huge impact. You know you’re creating a little soft zone there for the cartels; for the drugs and the human trafficking to come in. I’m not saying that to knock the guys on the ground – the Border Patrol; they are doing a great job and they will continue to do a great job. But you are eliminating those extra shifts and you’re weakening the Border Patrol’s mission is because you’re eliminating that. If you don’t think that the cartels know what the politics are in Tucson, you’re kidding yourself. They know exactly what it is and they would love nothing more than to see that $1.6 million go away in extra duties. What that means is that they have a lot more opportunities to pass the drugs through.”
Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier blasted the supervisors’ vote in a letter:
On September 4, the Board of Supervisors voted to end the Pima County Sheriff’s Department involvement in Operation Stonegarden. This vote was despite clear evidence of the public safety value of the program and letters of support from every law enforcement agency head in the county. This was a politically motivated vote that will adversely impact public safety in our county.
Nothing about this decision by the Board changes my mandate as the elected Sheriff of Pima County to maintain public safety and address transnational crime threats coming up from the border. Nothing about this decision changes our current policies/practices with respect to interaction with our federal law enforcement partners. The Board has the luxury of making political, partisan, and ideologically driven decisions. We do not. Public safety is not a partisan or ideological issue; it is a quality of life and community issue.
In February, the Stonegarden Grant was approved by the Board and signed by the Chair with five (5) conditions. When we were confident we met those conditions we began expending available funds. This expenditure of funds must now stop.
In the coming weeks we will work to find a way to continue to provide public safety to the rural and remote areas of our county. We must continue to address drug and human trafficking. We have an affirmative responsibility to address transnational crime, and while staying within our respective lanes, cooperate with our federal partners. Unfortunately, we now will not have the benefit of federal funding to pursue those activities. Over the past 12 years, we have received about $16 million in Stonegarden funding without opposition.
At the Board meeting there were many disparaging comments made about our deputies and Department. These are baseless and should have been rejected by the Board. The brave men and women of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department serve us with honor and distinction.
Our county is better served, the plight of the undocumented is better served, and the mission of public safety is better served when our local law enforcement professionals are out there serving all of us.