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2 counties to get state funding for deputies for border unit

Border fence in Nogales Arizona separating the United States from Nogales Sonora Mexico

Border fence in Nogales Arizona separating the United States from Nogales Sonora Mexico

The state plans to provide two counties with partial funding for sheriff’s deputies to work on Arizona’s new border strike force, and those counties and two others would also get money to pay for costs stemming from border-related crime.

A Department of Public Safety plan endorsed by a legislative oversight committee Wednesday will provide Cochise County with $375,000 for five deputies and Pima County with $225,000 for three deputies.

DPS Director Frank Milstead told the committee in a Sept. 14 letter that Santa Cruz and Yuma counties aren’t assigning deputies to the unit because they cannot provide a required 25 percent match.

The state also plans to provide $125,000 grants to each of the four border counties for prosecution and jail expenses stemming from drug trafficking, human smuggling, illegal immigration and other border-related crimes.

Gov. Doug Ducey ordered the DPS last year to create the task force to help law enforcement agencies respond to crimes along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The money for the counties was included in approximately $25 million that the current state budget provides for the border strike force. That total includes ongoing costs, mainly for personnel, as well as one-time expenses for equipment such as vehicles, a helicopter, weapons and surveillance equipment.

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said during Wednesday’s hearing that the two counties’ non-participation in the strike force seemingly leaves “a big gap in our coverage” along the border.

However, a DPS official said the strike force will operate in areas along the state’s entire border regardless of whether a particular county has deputies assigned to the unit.

The two non-participating counties could be added to the program in the future, said Phil Case, DPS’ budget director. “We’ll revisit this on an annual basis,” he said.

Case said the matching-fund requirement is somewhat burdensome for counties because the money a sheriff’s department has to provide for participating deputies means there is less available for other purposes. For every four deputies a county assigns to the task force, it has to provide the equivalent of funding for one deputy performing other duties, Case said.

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