BISBEE — Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever offered ideas to a federal government subcommittee that was examining preparedness and coordination efforts of first responders along the country’s Southwest border on Tuesday in Washington.
The other individuals were Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr. of Zapata County, Texas, and officials from the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the National Guard Bureau.
The purpose of the hearing was to examine the unique challenges that federal, state and local first responders face in border communities in light of the escalation of drug-cartel related violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to www.homeland.house.gov.
Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever
It also aimed to examine preparedness needs specific to the Southwest border, including cross-border communications and information sharing capabilities, and multi-jurisdictional partnerships, according to the Web site.
“Part of my testimony and statements included the fact that those of us who have lived in this environment and worked in it for 25 or 30 years have always experienced and had to deal with violence along the border,” he said. “It is part of the reality of the culture and the environment we work in.”
In fall 1987, for example, the Border Patrol Tucson Sector chief was quoted in a magazine as saying: “Congress has mandated that we get control of our border. And that is exactly what we are going to do. Whether it is illegal aliens, drugs, terrorists, or whatever, we are going to get control of our border.”
And border violence was the subject matter the first time Dever went to Washington to testify, which was in June 1997 before the foreign relations committee.
“So, this is nothing new,” he said.
He explained that he did not refer to those instances in an attempt to discourage past efforts. Rather, he wanted to emphasize a significant “course correction” is necessary, or else the government will be holding similar hearings on border violence two decades from now.
Dever said he is concerned that officials in Washington tend to make important decisions regarding the border without first visiting the area. He would like to see local agencies and entities be more involved in the early stages of the planning process for strategic, tactical and policy-making venues.
He also thinks government officials need to believe it is possible to secure the borders and need to commit to spending the money and applying adequate resources in terms of policy, infrastructure, equipment, communications and intelligence sharing.
In his written testimony, he remarked that Operation Stonegarden, which provides funding to local jurisdictions to support federal border enforcement efforts, has proved to be effective.
“Sheriffs on the border have no interest in becoming border enforcement agents. We do, however, have a significant role to play in preventing and investigating crime related to drug and people smuggling in our respective counties,” he stated.
“Until our federal government achieves its mandate to secure our borders, we will be plagued with the consequences. We do not have the resources to successfully meet our obligations, and therefore require some relief. Expansion of existing federal programs that adequately reimburse and enable local criminal justice agencies to employ necessary resources are imperative,” he continued.
Dever’s trip to Washington was funded by the National Sheriffs’ Association.