During Arizona's last legislative session, one of the top priorities for our legislators was to give Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu $1.7 million.
The politically popular sheriff and tea party favorite told the Legislature he needed money to buy an armored car, machine guns and a helicopter to take on the Mexican drug cartels he continually says control Pinal County.
While cutting education, health care and public safety budgets, the Legislature bought Babeu's shtick and paid cash for his political loyalty.
Since he took office in 2009, Babeu (who went from rookie patrolman to novice sheriff) has pleaded poverty and told us how he'll save Arizona if only he had more money.
But here's the thing: Since 2008, crime has gone down in Pinal County. Eleven of the 15 Arizona counties have higher crime rates than Pinal. Maricopa County residents are victimized nearly twice as often as Pinal's.
According to the U.S. Border Patrol, illegal alien apprehensions in Pinal County have declined for three years. Only 2 percent of illegal crossers in the Tucson sector are captured in Pinal County. Marijuana seizures in Pima County are 18 times higher than in Pinal County.
Pinal County is saturated with federal, state, county, city and tribal law enforcement officers. There's even a sizable air force made up of county, state and federal aircraft patrols.
Even with more manpower, an air force and crime and seizures down, Babeu's chief deputy showed up at the Legislature last month. He told legislators about "going to war each and every day" with the drug cartels and how Babeu needs money from the state.
He had plenty of money in June - that's when Babeu spent $53,000 to send himself and an entourage of 24 employees to a convention in St. Louis, where he was receiving an award.
Babeu had enough cash to live the good life at the Renaissance St. Louis Grand Hotel. He dropped $28,885 on rooms. The hotel's website describes the Grand as a "premier luxury hotel with lavish amenities that exceeds expectations in every detail from the opulent lobby to the elegant Crystal Ballroom."
The St. Louis downtown area Motel 6 has rooms for $39 a night. No lavish amenities, just free coffee and they do "leave the light on for you."
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio sent one person to the convention. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik sent none.
Babeu's expenditures included valet parking, excess baggage costs for the family of his PR man, food charges and a taxi ride for an aide to the Budweiser Brewery.
Babeu excused his lavish spending by saying the money came from jail enhancement taxes and seized RICO funds, and that the convention provided needed training for his staff.
Money taken from the people by the government belongs to the taxpayers.
It's money that could have and should have been spent on essential law enforcement services.
That $53,000 would have paid for 150 hours of flight time for Department of Public Safety helicopters. Purchased 100 Arizona-made mini-14 assault rifles. Or paid for rushed DNA analysis on the over 200 sexual assault evidence kits the Babeu's office failed to timely send to an underfunded DPS crime lab for analysis. How many criminals have gotten away with their crime because of that failure? How many more crimes have been committed?
While the Legislature is playing political patty-cake with Babeu at taxpayer expense, they won't fund the desperately needed statewide information sharing system known as CopLink that would allow law enforcement agencies to share information, track and solve crimes and capture criminals.
The cost for the system? About what the Legislature decided to give Babeu to play war in the desert.
The Legislature plays favorites with Babeu. Babeu plays favorites with his entourage in St. Louis. All the while, working cops don't get the equipment and support they need, and Arizona citizens don't get the protection they pay for and deserve.
It's the same old politics in Arizona.
• Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org