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Sheriffs push back against Ducey’s border security plan

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Gov. Doug Ducey should restore money taken from counties and fix ongoing problems with the state Department of Public Safety before pouring more cash into a new state border security strike force, the state sheriffs association said Monday.

The Arizona Sheriffs Association said in an open letter that Ducey’s new plan relies on cash previously taken by the state from counties that has hampered their efforts to secure the border. In addition, the group said the state police needs to fill about 100 vacant positions that are hindering normal highway patrol functions, upgrade its aging radio system, its counter-terrorism information center and its crime lab.

“Personally I don’t think it’s needed, I haven’t met a border sheriff yet that says it is,” Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot said of Ducey’s new border force. “If they found moneys that they want to spend in regards to border security, they can send that money to the counties to help offset the cost that we’ve incurred doing the job we’re doing now.”

Wilmot signed the letter as president of the association, which represents all 15 county sheriffs. He said Ducey’s plan to hire as many as 180 new DPS officers makes no sense given current understaffing and the time it would take to get the new officers hired, trained and deployed.

“You’re biting off a lot more than you can chew. It would take you over a year to get an officer hired on and field trained before they can actually get out on the street,” Wilmot said. A better use of the money would be to boost funding for special teams already deployed around the state and by helping counties with their border-related costs.

Ducey formally announced the creation of the border strike force last week, saying he would ask the Legislature to approve tens of millions of dollars of new funding in the coming state budget. He said his proposal will add staffing, technology, air assets and highway patrol coverage. He also wants to boost spending on prosecutors, help county jails pay for holding added prisoners and temporarily use Arizona National Guard troops.

The opposition from the sheriffs association comes after years of budget cuts to counties by the state. Wilmot said sheriffs’ ability to respond to border crime has been severely hampered by the cuts. Just this year, the budget Ducey signed shifted more than $54 million in new costs to counties. For several years, the state highway user fund known as HURF that normally supports county road-building efforts has been tapped to fund the Highway Patrol.

“Send the HURF money back to the counties, quit putting cost shifts onto the counties to fix the budget at the state level,” Wilmot said in an interview. “The state needs to look at funding DPS through general fund moneys and address the concerns that we have before we even look at considering supporting any future additional projects the governor might have in mind for the Arizona Department of Public Safety.”

Ducey said last week that his administration would work with local sheriffs to implement his plan, but he sidestepped a question about opposition from some sheriffs. Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said he was reviewing the letter Monday afternoon.

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