Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik is deputizing two U.S. Border Patrol officers without having to get either the permission of county supervisors or a state law that says he can ignore them.
Dupnik told Capitol Media Services on Tuesday that federal officials agreed to have two of their sergeants sworn in as sheriff's deputies without the county first signing a formal "memorandum of understanding." Their primary role, he said, will be to ensure coordination of the activities of his border crimes unit, where they will be assigned, and Border Patrol agents.
In fact, Dupnik said, the Border Patrol was so eager to begin working with his agency that the first officer actually went on duty Monday night.
The move come as Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed legislation Tuesday that would have given Dupnik the power to sign a pact with the Border Patrol without first having to get the consent of county supervisors. Dupnik had asked Rep. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, to sponsor the legislation after the supervisors balked at signing the formal agreement the federal agency said it needed.
Napolitano, in her veto message, said she doesn't believe Dupnik needs a change in state law. She said her reading of the statutes convinces her any sheriff has the authority to enter into any formal agreement with the Border Patrol to facilitate communication between the two agencies whether or not county supervisors agree, "so long as the agreement has no fiscal impact on the county."
In the end, though, Dupnik never had to test the governor's legal theory. He said the legislation and the publicity surrounding it had the desired effect: The Border Patrol agreed to the having their officers deputized and work with the border crime unit - and without all the paperwork.
"They sent one for each squad and basically said, 'To hell with the lawyers. We need to do what's right. We need to protect our people, you need to protect your people and we both need to protect the public,' " Dupnik said.
The veto pleased Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias, who said he never believed state intervention was necessary.
"Officially, he can still deputize whoever he wants to," Elias said. "That's an issue between him and the rest of the community."
He said the bill was "superfluous" and little more than "political grandstanding by members of the Legislature."
Paton, however, said that's not what the evidence shows.
"This isn't about deputizing people," he said.
Paton said the Border Patrol had originally demanded a formal agreement with the county. And he said Dupnik had submitted that request to the supervisors but withdrew it after it became clear the votes were not there for approval.
"If anybody's grandstanding, it was Richard Elias and the Board of Supervisors for paying more attention to a small minority than the safety of those officers," Paton said, referring to concerns expressed by Derechos Humanos and other groups that said such an agreement would lead to more racial profiling.
He said Dupnik got what he needed only because the Border Patrol "decided to go ahead and do the right thing" and agree to embed the two officers with his deputies.
Elias said while Dupnik is legally free to deputize Border Patrol officers, he still believes it is a bad move.
"We're going to have a chilling effect on a lot of people in our community who really need to have access to good public safety," he said. Elias said some illegal immigrants may be "intimidated" and not report crimes.
Dupnik, however, said the purpose of the action is not to round up illegal immigrants. Instead, he said, his border crimes unit and the Border Patrol need to know where each is working to ensure their operations do not endanger each other.