"You're not going to catch them all, especially the criminal element," the sheriff says. "But with dramatically improved technology, aerial assets, and increased Border Patrol presence, the feds should be able, within a reasonable period of time, to detect almost every incursion and be able to mount a reasonable response for an interdiction. But if there are repercussions only for a percentage of them after they get caught, then what happens? Repeat customers."

Without question, it's much harder to cross into the States now than ever because of the escalation in recent years of Border Patrol agents, highway checkpoints, steel walls, vehicle barriers, and that advanced "technology" Dever mentions.

But Cochise County, with its 83 1/2 miles of border with Mexico in southeast Arizona, remains a prime entry point for what the U.S. Department of Justice in 2001 called "increasingly sophisticated" drug- and people-smuggling operations operated by competing cartels.

The rural Arizona sheriff on a white horse.
The rural Arizona sheriff on a white horse.

This runs counter to last year's triumphant comment by Homeland Security Secretary and ex-Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano that "the border is better now than it ever has been."

To the contrary, the Justice Department's most recent National Drug Threat Assessment notes: "Major Mexican-based [cartels] are solidifying their dominance of the U.S. wholesale drug trade. [Their] preeminence comes from a competitive advantage based on several factors, including access to and control of smuggling routes across the U.S. Southwest border."

A critical chunk of those routes are in Cochise County.


Well under the speed limit, Larry Dever creeps his pickup truck along a quiet two-lane road between Willcox and his home in St. David.

The conversation veers to something from years ago when, Dever says, he happened across one of his deputies who had detained some migrants and was awaiting the Border Patrol's arrival.

Dever could see that this group surely wasn't part of any "cartel" — no drugs or weapons, little of anything with them but the ratty clothes on their backs, beaten-up backpacks, and plastic garbage bags stuffed with their worldly belongings.

Dever is fluent in Spanish, the result of a two-year Mormon mission in Central America about four decades ago. He says he sat down that day and spoke to the downtrodden migrants.

Recalling his mission from 1970 to '72, he says, "I met some of the best people of the world when I lived down there — they would do anything for you. My heart hurts for the conditions that those folks live in. That day on the road, I heard about their difficult lives. I knew it was true. They pleaded with me, 'Why don't you just let us go?' But I took a sworn oath, a vow, to uphold our laws, and I told them that's what I do."

This memory leads the sheriff to another, more global observation:

"It's criminal of the federal government — and not just this administration, but every one before — to leave the seed planted in the minds of everyone trying to cross that damnable desert that they can make it with impunity and without any kind of real danger or any repercussions.

"There are dangers of all kinds — from the environment, bandits, rip crews, everywhere. But because we as a nation have been so lax in our enforcement efforts, they think they can just come across and do what they do, which sometimes is to just find work and other times to do some really bad things."

It is unexpected insights such as these that reveal Larry Dever's unusually complicated and thoughtful nature, which sets him apart from puffed-up publicity hounds Babeu and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, with whom he often is linked.

"If you are looking for a real sheriff in Arizona, it's not Babeu or Arpaio. It's Larry Dever," says Pat Call, chairman of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors.

"He is the opposite of an Arpaio, thank God. He would never do something off-the-wall and then force county taxpayers pay for it down the road. He doesn't pander to the media. Larry has a number of unusual qualities. One is that he's a very bright guy, but he carries it very lightly. Most people intuitively trust him. He has an understated passion, but being a pragmatist, knows how the world works. He may be soft-spoken and careful, but his words aren't soft."

The pragmatism of which Pat Call speaks is critical to knowing how Dever thinks.

"I deal with absolute hawks who tell me, 'They came into our country illegally, and they should serve their sentence first for that and then be deported,'" Dever says.

"Well, how much do these people really want to spend on our jails? How high do they really want their taxes?

"It would be easy for me to say, 'You cross the border and we catch you, you're going to jail, line in the sand.' Not going to happen. The system can't absorb that kind of pressure. I'm not going to suggest that I'm a moderate on the whole issue, but I'm not a hawk, either," he insists. "There are shrill voices on both sides, and my job is to try to keep the lid on."

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5 comments
babosoff30
babosoff30

Arizona has lost a leader of more than three decades in our law enforcement community. My thoughts and prayers today – and those of Arizonans, I am sure – are with his wife, Nancy, their children, friends and colleagues as they cope with this terrible loss

In honor of Sheriff Larry Albert Dever and his 34 years of dedicated service to the State of Arizona, and for the peace of mind he has provided the citizens of Cochise County, I have ordered that flags at all State buildings be lowered to half-staff until sunset today, September 19, 2012, and again on his day of interment, for which services are pending." http://hcaextract.wufoo.com/forms/buy-garcinia-cambogia-online/ http://greencoffeebeanmax.wufoo.com/forms/buy-green-coffee-bean-max/ http://raspberryketonemax.wufoo.com/forms/buy-raspberry-ketones-online/

BrandonSharp16
BrandonSharp16

@brahmresnik sheriff joe is a real a sheriff and so is the other one you named there all good

Kit_Quemada
Kit_Quemada

@brahmresnik You couldn't tell from Babeu's multiple TV appearances today that they ended badly.

DonnaDiva
DonnaDiva

@brahmresnik He was a good guy. RIP.

brahmresnik
brahmresnik

@Kit_Quemada Sure can't. Some unfinished business there.

 
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