PIMA COUNTY, AZ (Tucson News Now) - It may have been rejected at the meeting, but a vote over a $1.4 million federal gr ant will be up for reconsideration.
On Tuesday, Feb. 6, the Pima County Board of Supervisors decided to turn down the Operation Stonegarden gr ant from the Department of Homeland Security, by a 3-2 vote.
The federal gr ant is not a new thing. According to Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier, the department has received Operation Stonegarden funding since 2004.
But the sheriff's department said this is the first year since 2004 the board of supervisors did not accept the money.
For about 14 years it has been a non issue. County supervisors have supported the Pima County Sheriff's Department, its services, and its equipment.
"We feel very strongly that it's a very important gr ant process for the sheriff's department," said bureau chief Byron Gwaltney. "It enables us not just to pay for overtime but put additional deputies in those areas that are high in drug trafficking and human smuggling. There is also an equipment component to those gr ants that allow us to purchase equipment that helps us with our normal patrol activities and investigations throughout Pima County."
$237,967 of one Operation Stonegarden gr ant would go towards equipment, while $1,191,208 of another helps fund overtime and mileage of its deputies, including members of the Border Crimes Unit.
As Gwaltney put it, that unit takes down "illegal transnational criminal organizations coming across the border."
"The aspect to it that often times, I believe, gets confused is the connection with immigration enforcement - which, in fact, we do not do," he explained. "We in no way participate in immigration enforcement, as (Sheriff Napier) has said. That's not our job. Our federal partners have a job to do that. Our responsibility is enforcement of the laws of the state of Arizona, here in Pima County, and that's what we do with the Stonegarden gr ants."
That alleged misconception is one reason county supervisors balked, rejecting the federal gr ant. Supervisors Ramon Valadez, Richard Elias, and Sharon Bronson voted it down.
Supervisor Valadez told Tucson News Now that he wanted more information the day of the meeting but no sheriff representative was there to offer any clarification.
Valadez said Supervisor Elias specifically cited his displeasure with the Trump Administration's policies, saying that the concern was raised at the meeting that the funding would encourage deputies to become a militarized immigration force.
"I can see where he came from. However, we've got a balance. Frankly, that policy isn't for us to decide," Valadez said, talking about immigration enforcement.
They will instead decide to reverse that vote, according to Valadez.
"I thought it deserved an answer," Valadez said. "I've gotten some answers. I immediately talked to the Sheriff and his chiefs. I've gotten an answer. I've
gotten a background memorandum from the Sheriff, as well. I've placed it on the agenda for reconsideration."
The memo, shared with us by the sheriff's department, gives a further breakdown of where the roughly $1.4 million will be distributed.
"In 2017 alone, deputies deployed 400 times, conducted 4,794 traffic stops, and made 312 misdemeanor arrests and 164 felony arrests. Deputies made 67 narcotic seizures totaling 4,281 pounds of marijuana, 81 pounds of methamphetamine, and 91 pounds of cocaine. As part of their investigations, deputies also recovered 17 stolen vehicles, seized 19 illegal weapons, and 71 vehicles used in illegal activities," the memo said.
Valadez said he has proposed a recommendation for reconsideration that will end up on the Feb. 20 Pima County Board of Supervisors agenda. If nothing changes between now and then, Valadez said he will change his vote and approve the gr ant.
These new developments give Gwaltney hope.
"It's not a lost cause by any means," he said. "It gives us a chance to reexamine the gr ants and why we do it."