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Tucson police to quit taking funds from federal border-security grant
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Tucson police to quit taking funds from federal border-security grant

Mayor Regina Romero championed TPD Chief Chris Magnus’ decision to reject the Stonegarden grant.

The Tucson Police Department has notified the federal government that it is withdrawing from participation in the Operation Stonegarden border security grant program, arguing that it runs counter to TPD’s mission “and the expectation of the community we serve.”

The department’s move comes as Pima County continues to decide whether to also cease acceptance of the federal funding, which provides local municipalities funding for costs associated with border security, whether it’s for equipment, overtime or other uses.

The Tucson police disclosure was made in a Dec. 30 email to the department from Assistant Police Chief Kevin Hall. He wrote that officials have advised the Arizona Department of Homeland Security, the governing body that administers the grant, that it will no longer participate in the program, effective at the end of the month.

The email was obtained by the Arizona Daily Star this week through a public-records request.

“The department’s Executive Leadership Team has determined that in the best interests of the department and community as whole, we will no longer participate in the OPSG program, effective January 30, 2020,” Hall wrote. “The Arizona Department of Homeland Security, which administers the OPSG grant for the federal government, has been notified of this action and is currently working with us to reconcile past equipment purchases and any residual funding that may extend past Jan. 30. We appreciate the work and effort all of you have put forth over the years into the program however it is simply not feasible for us to continue our participation.”

The revelation of Tucson’s decision comes days before Pima County is set to discuss whether to continue accepting the grant. The Board of Supervisors had voted last year to accept the grant, with the condition that $200,000 be used to overcome costs incurred at the Casa Alitas shelter for migrants seeking asylum; however, that request was denied by federal officials, who said the modification provided “no border security operational benefit,” rendering void the supervisors decision.

Hall cited the federal government’s decision regarding humanitarian aid as a reason for the police department’s withdrawal.

“It has become increasingly difficult to blend the stated performance metrics/desired outcomes of the grant with TPD’s mission and the expectations of the community we serve,” Hall wrote. “One current example of this is the unwillingness of the federal government to allow even a small portion of OPSG grant funds to be used to assistant county and municipal governments in addressing the costs associated with asylum seekers coming through our communities.”

In an interview on Friday, TPD Police Chief Chris Magnus disclosed that the department made a similar request to use 20% of their roughly $600,000 in Operation Stonegarden funding for humanitarian aid. While the department had some previous issues in the more than decade they’ve utilized the grant, Magnus said the denial of the reallocation “really seemed like the end of the line.”

He ultimately said the grant was “not a great fit for the work we were doing” and that he doesn’t think halting the acceptance of the grant will have a major effect on the department’s policing efforts because the entirety of the money was being used for overtime for the officers.

“We have other overtime dollars that we have the capability using for various projects and activities,” he said. “I don’t think this is going to have a significant impact on our ability to do crime prevention in the city.”

Tony Archibald, president of the Tucson Police Officers Association disagreed, saying the loss of Stonegarden “is bad for public safety in our community.”

“For years, this federally funded grant has paid for officer overtime to do proactive, on-site activity in high crime areas. The Stonegarden deployments have resulted in hundreds of arrests that would not have occurred without this federal money. Additionally, the Stonegarden deployments have taken countless guns and drugs off the streets of Tucson,” he said in a prepared statement Friday. “Without these federally funded overtime deployments, an already understaffed police department will have a hard time addressing these crime issues.”

The decision was backed by Mayor Regina Romero, who said that in conversations with Magnus, it became clear that continuing to accept the grant under the administration of President Trump would “not make any sense based on the vision” of the Police Department and City Council.

“We have taken time and again a position of defense of immigrants and refugees and all asylum seekers in our community,” Romero said. “From this discussion, in terms of Stonegarden to taking a position against Trump’s border wall to taking a position in favor of granting DACA recipients their permanent status ... we have taken a position for the benefit of each and every one of our residents, no matter their status.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Meanwhile, the Pima County Board of Supervisors is set to again discuss whether to accept the grant when it meets Tuesday.

In the wake of the federal government’s decision, Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier asked the board to reconsider accepting the Federal Fiscal Year 2018 grant, which is worth $1.8 million, with a few exceptions, including limiting the amount of overtime deputies could incur via Stonegarden.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, who previously said he “cannot and will not recommend” the acceptance of Stonegarden without modification after a county analysis revealed a hefty taxpayer burden for the pension fund of deputies who received Stonegarden overtime, recommended in a memo on Jan. 16 that the supervisors accept the grant, with some of Napier’s conditions.

Contact reporter Justin Sayers at jsayers1@tucson.comor 573-4192. Twitter: @_JustinSayers. Facebook: JustinSSayers.

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Justin, a two-time University of Arizona graduate, covers local government, focusing on the City of Tucson. He previously worked at the Louisville Courier Journal, Arizona Republic and Hartford Courant and has received several journalism awards.

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