Border sheriff wary of AZ's new border strike force

Published: Feb. 4, 2016 at 8:02 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 31, 2016 at 7:31 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NOGALES, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The governor's plan for a border strike force in Arizona has at least one sheriff along the border worried about missed opportunities.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said Thursday, Feb. 4 that he cannot commit any deputies or any other resource to a new task force because he's already involved in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program.

"It would be senseless to try to repeat that," he said.

Estrada said Santa Cruz County would have to opt out of the border strike force if it means dedicating any amount of money.

The sheriff said in the meetings he's had so far, nobody's asked him what would help the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department better combat the issue.

He said he would rather see any state money spent on local sheriff's departments because they're who best understand the drug and human trafficking issues in their respective counties.

"They do need to understand the issue that we're facing down here," Estrada said. "Obviously, coming out of Phoenix, they really don't know the dynamics."

Col. Frank Milstead, director of Arizona Department of Public Safety, said he's working with the various sheriffs to understand what their needs are, because there is not a plan that will work for all of Arizona. However, Milstead said it was important to Gov. Doug Ducey that DPS lead the charge and control the money.

"Instead of trying to manage a number of political subdivisions in the counties, and county boards of supervisors to make sure that mission wants to be ... moved forward, he asked me to do it," Milstead said. "He asked me to provide the leadership piece to bring everybody together and try to galvanize those agencies together for a common goal."

In his first year as director, Milstead said he's been meeting with local law enforcement as well as mending relationships with federal agencies. The strike force would cost close to $31 million, with $20 million paying for the initial startup and the rest covering annual operation. An estimated 16-20 new troopers would be hired, but Milstead said the strike force will need cooperation from agencies across the state.

"Arizona really is the front door for much of the heroin and methamphetamine coming into America," he said. "The problem is absolutely as big as we think it is and the successes of working together on these programs is very, very compelling."

The on-going collaboration between DPS and the Cochise County Sheriff's Office is an example of the positives that can come from the border strike force, according to Milstead.

Copyright 2016 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.