Arguing that current efforts to stop Mexican drug cartels from packing heroin over Arizona's border have “fallen short,” Governor Doug Ducey today appealed to federal officials for financial and technical support for a controversial new border security force made up of state police.
Since September, when Ducey quietly assembled the Arizona Border Strike Force, officials have confiscated nearly 19 pounds of heroin, he testified during a field hearing for the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which includes Arizona U.S. senators John McCain and Jeff Flake. Nineteen pounds, enough for 855,000 hits, is more than state authorities seized in all of 2014.
The force also has seized more than $2.2 million, nearly 4,000 pounds of marijuana, and 73 pounds of meth, he said. Officers have made more than 150 felony and 30 misdemeanor arrests, captured 14 documented gang members, and apprehended more than 70 undocumented immigrants, he said.
"We've seen measurable success in just a short time, with a short list of personnel, few resources, and through minimal targeted operations," he said. "Now imagine what we could do with more."
Ducey outlined his vision of the Border Strike Force working in tandem with local and federal officials, such as Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to aggressively target drug suppliers by sharing intelligence, equipment, and communication.
To bring the fight, he said, he'll need “tens of millions” of dollars in state and federal money to purchase planes, helicopters, and radios, as well as to hire more troopers, analysts, and pilots.
“Arizona must hold the line. For the sake of every state, every community, and every family in this country . . . and we intend to do so,” he said. “But we need your help. This is not just Arizona's problem. It's America's problem. And it's going to need to be met with state, local, and federal resources.”
Ducey justified the crackdown by citing statistics about the increase in the number of Arizonans incarcerated on drug-related offenses. Over the past two years, arrests involving heroin increased 76 percent, he said. More than 75 percent of inmates in Arizona prisons have a substance abuse problem.
And the consequences of drugs aren't confined to users, he said. Drugs are a “central unifying theme” for many of the social issues on the forefront of his mind as governor, he said, including chronic homelessness, unemployment, and poverty.
“There are more than 17,000 children who are wards of the state because their parents are unfit to raise them,” he said. “If we found them all homes tomorrow in foster care, there would be thousands more waiting right behind them . . . unless we address the corrosive nature of drug addiction.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, who also testified before the committee, agreed that enforcement agencies need more equipment and staffing, but he raised concerns about attracting and retaining officers. The agency got approval to hire 2,000 more customs officers last year, including 170 in Arizona, but it has only filled 800 of the positions.
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Critics of Ducey's plan, including the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that the best way to end the drug war is not to attack suppliers, but to cut down on demand — an issue that was raised repeatedly during the hearing.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery predicted drug cartels wouldn't cease operation until they “suffer severe economic pain.”
If law enforcement ramps up operation in one area, the cartels will likely adjust their routes, said Colonel Frank L. Milstead, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
“At the end of the day, we need to address the appetite for narcotics in this country,” he said, lamenting the lack of drug-resistance training programs in schools and the lack of national public health campaigns addressing addiction.