“What’s very troubling is the fact that at a time when we in law enforcement and our state need help from the federal government, instead of sending help they put up billboard-size signs warning citizens to stay out of the desert in my county because of dangerous drug and human smuggling and weapons and bandits.” — Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, on KTAR.com, Aug. 3, 2010
Criticizing the federal government is not uncommon, particularly in Arizona and during election season. But are the feds as useless in the war on crime as Sheriff Babeu intimates?
Babeu forgets to mention that since he took office, the federal government has given him $2,964,164 in grant money to enhance law enforcement in Pinal County and keep crime dropping like it has for several years.
Babeu also forgets to mention the federal government pays him approximately $230,000 a month to house federal prisoners in a county jail that would otherwise sit partially empty and cost Pinal County taxpayers financially and no telling how many jobs that are filled by local residents.
In other words, Babeu forgets he has an “Uncle Sugar” who pumps millions into his department while he’s biting the hand that feeds him.
And it’s not just Pinal County that has reaped the benefits of the federal government when it comes to law enforcement.
According to David Gonzales, the U.S. Marshal for Arizona, the feds apprehended 2,826 fugitives who committed felonies in Maricopa County in the last two years. That included 123 murder suspects and 364 sex offenders.
And then there are the two massive state manhunts, led and funded in large part by the U.S. Marshals, for three state prison escapees and their accomplices, and a man wanted for murdering a county sheriff’s deputy in Northern Arizona. Thousands of man hours and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars were provided to the state and multiple county sheriff’s offices in order to track down and capture those dangerous fugitives.
Other federal law enforcement agencies are also making a serious impact on crime in our state.
Bill Newell, the Special Agent in Charge for Arizona’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said his agents in partnership with the Phoenix Police Department arrested 75 people suspected of committing home invasions last summer. In 2009, ATF seized 2,000 firearms that were destined for organized crime gangs in Mexico and on the streets of Arizona. They also arrested more than 500 career criminals for weapons violations.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has also been busy. Special Agent in Charge Elizabeth Kempshall said during the last three years, DEA agents in Arizona have seized $274 million during drug investigations. Asset seizures have increased from $15.8 million in 2007 to $165.5 million in 2009.
The U.S. Marshals, ATF and DEA are also principal financial and resource backers for the highly successful East Valley Fusion Center database.
While there are problems on the U.S.-Mexico border, the dozens of sheriffs, police chiefs and command personnel I’ve spoken to have nothing but high praise for the efforts provided by federal law enforcement agencies.
Unfortunately, in order to grab headlines, Babeu, Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio have worked tirelessly to create an image that the feds are all sitting on the beach drinking cold beer while they’re single-handedly fighting crime.
The feds aren’t perfect, and neither are those three sheriffs. But working together has shown it works better than one side attacking the other in order to get publicity.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org