Stonegarden decision still being tried in court of public opinion

Fallout from rejecting federal money

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - In casting the deciding vote to reject Operation Stonegarden money, District 2 Supervisor Ramone Valadez, said it came down to trust.

Evidence shows that minority communities don't report crimes because they view local law enforcement and federal law enforcement through the same lens.

"If you look at minority and immigrant communities here in Pima County, what you see is a d rop in reporting," said Valadez. "Because the national narrative has made them afraid of their own law enforcement."

Pima County has been a recipient of Stonegarden money for the past decade, and has, so far, received $16 million.

The money has been used to pay deputies overtime and to buy new equipment, including helicopter parts.

The move against accepting the money was made last February, when questions raised by the American Civil Liberties Union began to take hold with the county, especially about immigration policy as it relates to Operation Stonegarden.

Billy Peard, who heads the Tucson office of the ACLU, says "little by little, month after month, as we got more information on the national level and what it means here in the local community, it began to disturb me."

The dollars, while not going to border enforcement per se, still gives the perception that federal agencies and local agencies work as one unit.

"If law enforcement is about, at the core community building and community trust building, then they have to have that trust in order to be effective in order to fight crime in the local area," Peard said. "Certainly Operation Stonegarden does not help that cause."

Valadez said while not the only reason for his vote, it was near the top of the list because if minorities don't report crimes "that creates victims."

He believes both sides had legitimate arguments.

"Ultimately it was a very difficult decision," he said. "Probably one of the hardest decisions I've had to make in 22 years of elected service."

Operation Stonegarden may very well be revived and approved under the right circumstances, which is being reviewed by a 15 member commission. But it will need to be in such a way as to insure that trust is restored in minority communities.

Without it, effective law enforcement erodes.

"So I have to put up with domestic violence, I have to put up with aggravated assault, I have to put up with burglary, I have to put up with armed instances because I can't call the people who are there to protect me," Valadez said.

Sheriff Mark Napier issued a letter a day after the decision, calling it politically motivated and says it will hurt in his efforts to provide public safety.

He says those dollars he lost will need to be restored by taxpayer dollars or I have to "abdicate that responsibility, which I won't do."

With the decision Napier loses the seat he had at the table in Washington DC, as the the county with the second longest border with Mexico and with the second highest population.

"We're no longer a strategic partner, which is unthinkable at this point," he said. "Because I'm a Republican sheriff, I have inroads in Washington DC that could not be available to others and now that we're no longer a strategic partner, I think that's in jeopardy."

Napier and Peard have spent months working on policy which would be acceptable to both sides.

"We're made great progress," Peard said. "But we're not there yet."

For his part Napier said "I'm probably the only Republican sheriff in the United States that actively engaged with the ACLU to look at our policies, our procedures and priorities."

The concern is that Peard believes by its very nature, Operation Stonegarden promotes racial profiling whether intended or not.

The sheriff has developed a policy in conjunction with the ACLU.

"I think there's some real concerns out there, I don't deny that for a minute," he said. "People have real concerns and we listen to those concerns."

Valadez says he shares the concern of the sheriff who feels his officers were disparaged by the community.

"He and his deputies need to know that this community considers him and his deputies heroes," he said. "But the bottom line is we need to know our community, regardless of status, that those heroes will come save us when we need them to."

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