If the Board of Supervisors turns down a federal Operation Stonegarden grant next year, the county may never get a shot at the money again, Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier said Thursday in Green Valley.
“I cannot buy us any more forbearance,” Napier said at a Green Valley Council Board of Representatives meeting. “All of that money, despite what the activists think, doesn’t go away. It goes to other people and the county should really be on the front lines.”
The federal grant promotes cooperation among Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Border Patrol and local law enforcement agencies. It also finances overtime and mileage costs and equipment for joint operations among agencies tasked with securing international borders.
In September, the county board rejected the federal grant, 3-1. District 4 Supervisor Steve Christy, who represents Green Valley and part of Sahuarita, voted in favor of accepting the funding.
The amount of Stonegarden money will only increase in the future, Napier said. Last fiscal year, the grant offered $3.2 million to the county sheriff and its regional partners, including the Sahuarita Police Department. In FY 2018 that amount jumps to $3.8 million; and for FY 2019, the projection is $5 million.
“The federal government is all but begging me to take this money,” Napier said. He said it is essential for purchasing equipment and deploying deputies to rural, underserved areas in the county that are susceptible targets for trafficking and transnational crime.
Napier applied for almost $2 million in Stonegarden money for next fiscal year. He expects to get a response from the federal government in January or February.
Since 2006, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department has accepted 44 Stonegarden grants totaling $16.4 million.
During that time, the sheriff purchased $6 million in equipment with the grant. When the county rejected the funding, the federal government has asked for the equipment back. Thus far, Napier said he has advocated for the county sheriff to keep it.
“I’ve convinced them to stay the course and stick with us for a while longer,” he said. “But that would be devastating to this department.”
When the board mulled whether to accept the grant earlier this year it created five conditions the sheriff needed to meet in order to move forward. One condition was creating the Community Law Enforcement Partnership Commission.
Napier satisfied the demands but the board shot down the money in September.
Napier told the Green Valley News he is in constant contact with board about the issue, and he’s addressed all of the community concerns brought to his attention. For example, he said before his tenure the PCSD did not have a policy to prevent racial profiling, and now it does.
“And I’m willing to accept some community oversight on how we implement Stonegarden,” he said.
Another sticking point was allowing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to operate inside Pima County Adult Detention Complex. Although the Stonegarden grant and ICE are independent issues, Napier removed ICE from the jail in October, offering an olive branch to the community and board.
“I think I’ve gone more than meeting them halfway, far more,” he said. “It’s time to put the politics aside and do the right thing for the county.”
Napier said the Stonegarden grant is a small amount of money compared to the sheriff’s operating budget. However, arguing that $2 million is an inconsequential amount of money is exactly what’s wrong with government spending, he said.
The sheriff’s budget for FY 2019 is more than $164 million, according to county documents.
Overall, accepting the grant doesn’t unnecessarily entangle the sheriff with its federal partners including ICE and Border Patrol, Napier said.
After the grant was rejected, the board decided to keep CLEPC intact and expand its responsibilities. Today, the group is tasked with reviewing all federal and state-issued grants that the sheriff applies for.
Christy, a Republican, moved to disband the group Tuesday, claiming it is a political soapbox for activists. The board rejected Christy’s motion, 3-2, along party lines.
Napier sent a memo to the board Wednesday about CLEPC’s current role and future, describing a sense of “awkwardness” in its current position.
“It is difficult for a commission comprised primarily of citizens to review these grants without specific experience in grant administration and significant understanding of law enforcement operations,” the memo said. “Even those with law enforcement experience may in fact have little to no direct experience in administering grants.”
Considering prospective grant money can be complex, Napier said, and it’s uncommon for a civilian group to be tasked with the duty.
If the county accepts the Stonegarden grant next year, Napier said, “having CLEPC repurposed back to their original intent is something that I would embrace.”
David J. Del Grande | 520-547-9732