Arizona House of Representatives Speaker Kirk Adams wants to give Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu $5 million in state aid to help “hunt down drug cartels.”
The rationale, Adams said in a Feb. 22 press release, is to make sure Babeu “has the necessary resources to fulfill his responsibilities.”
What about the responsibilities of the state’s other sheriffs and police chiefs?
The Speaker’s statement contained the usual political puffery about securing the border, how the federal government has failed and that Adams and Babeu will save us from the drug cartels.
According the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, “Drug cartels are large, highly sophisticated organizations composed of multiple drug trafficking organizations and cells with their command-and-control structures based outside the United States.” The Department of Justice reported Mexican drug cartels have a “network of dealers in 231 U.S. cities taking in about $39 billion in sales annually.”
In other words, Arizona and Pinal County are just two pieces in a huge organized crime supply chain. Babeu will be arresting low-paid mules and not the drug lords.
Adams came up with the idea to give Babeu millions after hearing the sheriff’s plans on the radio.
The millions will come from proceeds received from the state’s now-defunct photo radar program. Babeu’s major campaign issue in 2008 was doing away with photo radar.
In years past, the legislature has thrown a million here and a million there at Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Cash given to powerful politicians such as Arpaio can buy legislators political support. Adams, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Congress in 2012, no doubt wants to ensure support from the politically popular Babeu, whose star is rising as Arpaio’s dims.
While Pinal County and Babeu are the current sweethearts of politicians and the media, crime in the form of street and prison gangs linked to Mexican crime lords continues growing statewide.
A July 2010 report by the Arizona High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Office said the Mexican mob “poses a great threat in Arizona. Street gangs are expected to continue to move into less populated areas, where law enforcement is unprepared or unable to deal with a growing gang presence. Drug trafficking and related crime will increase as the gangs expand their criminal operations.”
If you have a gang in your Arizona town and dope on your streets, your community is what they’re talking about.
As Adams prepares to cut Babeu a check in these dark fiscal times, law enforcement officials statewide are scrambling to do more with less.
No doubt Babeu needs help in a county that’s been home to domestic and international smugglers for decades. But $5 million? Last August, Babeu requested only $1.6 million from his county board of supervisors to combat smugglers. His request was denied. Since taking office in 2009, Babeu has received $2.96 million in federal grant money. In 2010 he received approximately $19 million for housing federal prisoners.
What the legislature needs to understand is that to effectively combat crime throughout Arizona — and not just in Pinal County — requires a statewide strategy and well-coordinated city, county, state, tribal and federal effort. Pinal County isn’t where crime in Arizona begins, nor is it where it will end.
Give Sheriff Babeu the $1.6 million he previously asked for. Then spend the rest on need-based grants and law enforcement programs that have been proven to reduce crime. And hold back enough money for Gov. Jan Brewer and the independent Arizona Criminal Justice Commission to pay for a comprehensive study to determine what needs to be done to combat the war against organized crime throughout Arizona.
Throwing money at an elusive enemy with billions of dollars and thousands of soldiers without a comprehensive statewide law enforcement strategy won’t solve Arizona’s organized crime problem.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org