Guest Opinion

Why I opposed the Stonegarden Grant

Sharon Bronson

The County Board of Supervisors has always supported the Sheriff and the men and women who work in law enforcement. We have always increased the budget for the Sheriff.

In fact, the Sheriff's budget allocation has consistently increased, year-over-year. In the current fiscal year, the Sheriff's budget is nearly $165 million. That's $35 million more than 2008. The public can be secure in the knowledge that the funding we provide law enforcement in Pima County not only is generous, but exceeds that of other counties. For the current fiscal year, using the general fund, our per capita funding to support law enforcement for Pima County stands at $141. In Maricopa County, this funding is $32, in Pinal County $107 and in Coconino County $72.

Unfortunately, we now have a policy disagreement with the Sheriff over a federal immigration program called Operation Stonegarden. This federal program is intended "to secure the travel corridor in States Bordering Mexico and Canada." In Pima County, these travel corridors are all state or interstate highways and fall under the primary law enforcement responsibility of the state's Department of Public Safety, not the Sheriff.

We have previously accepted federal Operation Stonegarden funds. So what is different now? Quite simply, the present federal executive position on immigration policy causes my desire to not be associated with these less than rational or humane policies.

For example, I object to separation of families, incarceration of children, denying asylum, denying entry or visas based on religion, deporting permanent resident aliens who have been in this county for decades for minor infractions of the law and finally deporting parents while still holding their children in this country. While we can do little to influence these policies, we do not have to be compliant in carrying them out by participating in Operation Stonegarden.

Attempts to vilify this Board and cast it as antagonistic to law enforcement and indifferent to public safety are simply false. Claiming our failure to participate in Operation Stonegarden causes a serious public safety issues is an unfortunate statement by the Sheriff. Facts suggest this claim is unfounded. Using easily available and verifiable information, the facts are:

• Of the 123-mile border Pima County shares with Mexico, only 4 percent is the primary responsibility of the Sheriff. Hence, we have little direct law enforcement responsibility actually on the border.

• Of the multiple Mexico travel corridors in Pima County, almost all are state or interstate highways where the primary responsibility for law enforcement rests with the state.

• Reviewing Operation Stonegarden data indicates 93 percent of vehicle stops and 97 percent of citations issued by the Sheriff occur along one or more state highways (I-10, I-19, Highway 86, Highway 85, Highway 83, Highway 286). These highways are the responsibility of the state Department of Public Safety, hence the state should step up their efforts on the border.

• Federal funds for Stonegarden are a very small amount of the budget for the Sheriff. The overtime provided by Operation Stonegarden of $1.1 million is less that 1 percent of the $165 million budget for the Sheriff.

• Stonegarden results in very few actual arrests. Since April 2018, 72 jail arrests have occurred relating to Operation Stonegarden during this same time 12,796 other jail arrests occurred, meaning Stonegarden jail arrests accounted for only 0.56 percent of all jail arrests during this period.

• In September, there were six inmates in custody as a result of Operation Stonegarden and only three of those were non-citizens out of a daily population of more than 1,900.

Clearly there will be no public safety crisis as a result of our not taking federal Operation Stonegarden funds. A better public safety strategy would be to provide the Sheriff with the same funds as Operation Stonegarden and ask him to hire an additional 11 deputies to enforce local and state laws and leave border enforcement to the numerous federal agencies tasked with border control.

Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson has represented District 3 since 1997.

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