Pima County is already running into delays to fulfill one of the five conditions placed when it accepted a federal grant encouraging collaboration between the Border Patrol and local law enforcement agencies to increase border security.
As part of board Supervisor Ramón Valadez’s reconsideration to accept the $1.4 million Operation Stonegarden grant, which covers overtime, mileage and equipment costs for local departments, he requested that the full financial impacts on other elements of the criminal-justice system be tracked.
But at least one law enforcement agency deferred its request to the Border Patrol, and another one consulted with the federal agency, which in turn had told it to hold off fulfilling the county’s request until further notice.
After each Operation Stonegarden shift, where local law enforcement officers work with federal agents, officers submit a report to the Border Patrol in which they note the location of the operation, number of officers that worked that day, hours expended and outcomes such as arrests, citations and drugs seized. It also includes a narrative detailing what the officers did.
In a memo to the public records unit, a Department of Public Safety major who works for the Border Strike Force Bureau, said that the daily activity reports (DARs) were property of the Border Patrol and that the DPS didn’t retain copies of such reports after they turned them over to the federal agency.
“All DARs are retained by the United States Border Patrol, who does not authorize distribution without specific 3rd party rule consent,” Jack Johnson wrote. “Pima County will need to request copies of DPS DARs from the United States Border Patrol to fulfill this request.”
And in response to the city of South Tucson’s consultation with the Border Patrol regarding the county’s request, an official with the agency responded on March 20: “Please have them stand down on this request. It is being reviewed by our legal department. At this time, no one has given permission to release information to the county administrator.”
Those reports have been made available to the media before, including to the Arizona Daily Star, which in 2009 investigated the grant by combing through thousands of Stonegarden records from 10 Southern Arizona agencies. And most recently, they were provided by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
“Unfortunately this will significantly delay our activities related to review of Operation Stonegarden and how it provides improved public safety for the residents of Pima County,” County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry wrote to the Board of Supervisors last week.
“The sheriff, to his credit, has agreed to provide copies of the DARs filed by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department without the present drama we are experiencing with other requests. I thank the sheriff for this cooperation,” he wrote.
He also noted that the county has received the reports from the Oro Valley Police Department and that the Tucson Police Department had not objected to providing copies of the reports.
“DPS’s response is a little puzzling to say the least,” Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said. “It leaves us in a difficult position to meet one of the board’s conditions to accepting Stonegarden.” His office referred the matter to the County Attorney’s office “to pursue appropriate public records compliance remedies.”
The DPS said the memo the Star referred to was “self-explanatory in nature. Mr. Huckelberry submitted a public records request to the Department, which has been completed,” spokesman Quentin Mehr wrote in an email.
The Border Patrol said on Friday afternoon that they received guidance that the reports can be released but with sensitive law enforcement information redacted. “The short answer is that it’s a go,” and the local agencies have been notified, said Steven Passement, action special operations supervisor in the Tucson Sector.
The state’s public-records law requires entities to maintain all records “reasonably necessary or appropriate to maintain an accurate knowledge of their official activities,” said Dan Barr, counsel to the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona.
“It’s crazy and irresponsible that you would create these records of your own activity and then give them to another agency and lose all control of them,” he said. “We live in an age where electronic storage is essentially limitless. It’s not a credible claim that you don’t have these records, even if public-records law didn’t require it, it would be an irresponsible thing to do.”
After 10 years of receiving the federal grant, the county Board of Supervisors voted in February along party lines to reject the funding, citing concerns of having local sheriff’s deputies collaborating with immigration officials and the potential total cost to the county. It was believed this was the first time the money had been declined in Arizona.
But Valadez, one of the deciding votes, asked for the vote to be reconsidered and it was approved a few weeks later under five conditions:
- that all employee-related expenses associated with the grant be completely covered;
- a new grant coordinating process be established for federal money like Stonegarden;
- financial impacts on other elements of the criminal-justice system be tracked;
- a formal policy regarding deputy interactions with federal officers be developed;
- and a new committee to look at the issue of racial profiling be created.
Most of those requests are currently being fulfilled, Huckelberry said in his memo to the board. The county created a grants management and innovation office “to develop a more comprehensive review and implementation strategy regarding all federal and state grants received by the county.”
The sheriff’s office has also provided a draft policy, and five members of the 10-member supervisors committee overseeing the issue of potential racial profiling have been appointed.
Last week , the Board of Supervisors also tabled consideration of a $360,000 federal grant to the Sheriff’s Department until the five conditions established for the recent approval of a larger federal grant are met.
“It doesn’t give one a great deal of confidence in the system,” Huckelberry said. “If there’s a reasonable request made by a public agency for information to confirm effective use of public resources and they are muddled or denied, it’s problematic on its face.”