On Thursday, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu is scheduled to testify before the U.S. Senate's Homeland Security committee. He's replacing Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever, as my colleague Brady McCombs is reporting.
If you follow Babeu's speeches and interviews, you have a pretty good idea what he'll say: The border is out of control, contrary to what Janet Napolitano says, and that's evidenced by increasing vehicle pursuits, marijuana seizures, and calls to the Border Patrol in Pinal County.
What Babeu won't be able to point to, barring a dramatic development in the next 24 hours, is the sort of gunfight between deputies and smugglers that he predicted for months, beginning in December 2010. On Feb. 1, for example, he told a Republican Women's group in Ahwatukee that armed conflict was inevitable. This is how the East Valley Tribune reported it:
"We're expecting a conflict," Babeu told the Ahwatukee Republican Women's organization at the Grace Inn, 51st Street and Elliot Road. "I absolutely believe you're going to see that happen in the next 30 to 60 days. It's not like I'm trying to start a war with the cartels. They're coming through like they own this place, and we're trying to stop them. I pray that every time, they surrender."
That 60-day period ended April 2.
At the time, this was only the latest of many predictions by Babeu of armed conflict in Pinal County. In interviews and speeches, including one in Tucson last month, Babeu has frequently made statements such as this, made Dec. 27 on a National Rifle Association interview:
"We’re gonna announce ourselves in Spanish. 'This is the Sheriff. Drop your weapons. You’re under arrest.' They’re gonna do one of three things. They’re either gonna surrender, or they’re gonna run from us and we’re gonna catch them. Or they’re gonna point their guns at us, at which time -- and I had already given specific instructions -- there had better be rounds heading down range at this threat to neutralize the threat."
In the same NRA interview, on the Cam and Company Internet radio show, Babeu also forecast a political benefit from the expected gunfights.
"When that happens, you’re gonna, you’re gonna see this blow up. And, and people across this country are gonna say, 'Enough!' We’ve gotta secure this border."
My colleague Jamar Younger interviewed Dave Hausman, head of the Pinal County deputies union, about Babeu's statements in late February. Hausman tried to ensure Babeu's comments weren't perceived as picking a fight.
"We don't want anybody to think our department is out there gunslinging," Hausman said. "We don't look forward to an armed confrontation (although) we are well prepared for it. That carries over to everything we do. The same statutes apply to Vekol Valley as in the metro area. It probably would've been better spoken if he would've better explained that."
In recent weeks, my colleague Brady McCombs and I have written about the claims Babeu has made to bolster his argument for getting $5 million in state funding for border security equipment. The gist is that there is little support for some of his statements, including that Pinal County is suffering the biggest border-security problems in Arizona, that Pinal County is the "No. 1 pass-through county for drug- and human-smuggling in America," and that 400,000 illegal border crossers made it into the Tucson sector last year.
It will be interesting to see whether Babeu cites these claims in Thursday's testimony.