Arizona sheriffs tell border panel they need more help

by Alia Beard Rau - Jul. 27, 2011 02:37 PM
The Arizona Republic

Sheriff's officials from across central and southern Arizona say they're doing their best to fight illegal immigration in their counties, but they need more help.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, as well as representatives from the Yuma and Pinal county sheriffs' offices, gave presentations Wednesday to the state's Joint Border Security Advisory Committee. The committee, which was formed this summer, is charged with taking testimony regarding the situation along the border, analyzing border and crime statistics and making recommendations to Gov. Jan Brewer.

Pinal County Chief Deputy Steven Henry described his office's efforts fighting the cartels as "going to war each and every day."

He said his office works closely with individuals from other state and federal agencies, but there could be more done.

"We wish we had more help from the federal government, particularly on the side of leadership," Henry said.

Henry said Pinal County particularly needs "air assets" such as a helicopter. He said deputies have trouble tracking smugglers into mountainous areas, chasing them through dusty areas of desert or tracking them at night without a helicopter.

"They get away from us," Henry said.

Pinal Country does seek help sometimes from the Department of Public Safety's three helicopters, but Henry said state budget cuts have severely limited the hours those helicopters are flying.

DPS Director Robert Halliday confirmed that was the case.

"We would love to get those helicopters in the air," he said.

Henry said it would cost at least $750,000 to purchase a helicopter, plus additional costs to equip it with a police radio and search lights. He said the cost for fuel and a pilot is about $350 an hour.

Yuma County Captain Eben Bratcher said his deputies regularly see large shipments of marijuana coming across the border. He said they are also starting to see large shipments of cocaine, which he described as "unusual."

He said human smuggling is down in his county, and they almost never see large groups of 100 or more crossing into his county anymore. He credits the border fence in that area for the decline.

"Yuma County is currently enjoying a respite," Bratcher said. "The fence has been extremely successful."

A new state law allows Arizona to collect private donations to try to build similar fencing along the western portion of the state's border with Mexico. The border committee will oversee the effort. A Web site,, launched last week and has so far raised more than $100,000. Law sponsor Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said they've had donations from all 50 states.

Arpaio it wasn't enough for committee members to simply build a fence -- he urged its construction in conjunction with a stronger deterrent -- incarceration.

"If they (illegal immigrants) want to hop the fence, put them in jail. Period," he said. "That's what we do here."

Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, co-chairman of the committee, said the group will not only look at building a substantial physical fence, but also at other technology that could help catch illegal border crossers.

"We are also looking at a sensing cable that can be buried in certain places ... like Pinal County, where we know there's a major infiltration route," Melvin said. ... riffs.html