Enough fentanyl pills flowed through Arizona last year to kill every one of the state’s 7 million-plus residents.
The Yavapai County Sheriff’s deputies seized more than 1 million fentanyl pills in 2022 alone. Much of that success by deputies came because of funding directly from the state under the Border Strike Task Force.
As a new governor leading Arizona, Katie Hobbs faces one of the most vexing questions in the infancy of her governorship: What will she do to stanch the flow of drugs and people crossing illegally at our southern border.
With the release of her first budget proposal, Hobbs decided to end the Border Strike Task Force and redirect the funding to the Department of Public Safety patrol division. Her budget continues to allocate money to some local law enforcement but questions remain over who can tap into that funding.
As the head of agencies that benefit from the state investment in law enforcement activities related to border crime, the Arizona Sheriff’s Association members urge Gov. Hobbs to consider the important work done using the border task force dollars that have gone for local law enforcement throughout the state.
While Yavapai County doesn’t share a border with Mexico, there can be no doubt that the drugs flowing illegally across wide swaths of unprotected borderlands and legally through the ports wind up in our area. The Hobbs budget proposal specifically allocates $12 million in one-time funding for “grants to law enforcement in border communities.”
Yavapai County Sheriff’s canine deputies funded by the Border Strike Task Force seized more than 1 million fentanyl pills. The state covers three-quarters of the pay and benefits for four canine officers that patrol the Verde Valley and Prescott area roads looking for drug and human smugglers.
In Navajo County, sheriff’s deputies patrol just a small portion of the nearly transcontinental Interstate 40. In 2022 alone, deputies seized more than 2 million fentanyl pills – an astonishing and worrying increase from 2021’s seizure of 600,000 pills.
The drug and human smuggling corridor through Cochise County is busier than ever. The $450,000 in Border Strike Task Force money funds six deputies and covers costs related to prosecutions and jail activities.
The Border Strike Force is not without controversy. Some question the efficacy of the dollars sent to the Department of Public Safety, but sheriff’s offices around the state take the money appropriated by the Legislature and put those funds to maximum use. In the current fiscal year, local law enforcement agencies can expect to receive more than $11 million. With Hobbs now in control of DPS, she may want to repurpose the money for the Border Strike Task Force. But sheriffs around the state hope Hobbs and the Legislature will continue to send state funds to local law enforcement across Arizona given the documented successes.
We see the impact of an operationally out-of-control border on a daily basis. Thousands of people from across the globe make it to Mexico to cross illegally. In addition, the federal government’s Title 42 program that restricts entrance to the country from asylum seekers may soon be revoked, leading to more chaos at the border.
Arizona’s leaders decided to step up and create the Border Strike Task Force to curb the northbound free-flow of drugs and people. Sheriff’s offices put that money to good use by seizing drugs and making arrests. Our hope is that Gov. Hobbs and the Legislature prioritize funding for the strike force in the 2023 session so we can continue our good work.
David Rhodes is the sheriff in Yavapai County; David Clouse is the sheriff in Navajo County and Mark Lamb is the sheriff in Pinal County.