Feathered Bastard

Russell Pearce, Hold Up! Sheriff Ralph Ogden of Yuma County Speaks Out on the Cost of SB 1070

Yuma County Sheriff Ralph Ogden is urging legislators to hold off on passing state Senator Russell Pearce's immigration bill SB 1070, saying that his county would have to pick up the tab for training costs related to the legislation, and the cost of holding more inmates on state charges in his facilities.

"I hate to postpone it," he stated during a phone interview today. "But I think we're getting in over our heads...This can't be a last minute thrown together program that's leaving us up for liabilities and putting us in an untenable position."

Ogden said he has 683 beds for inmates, with 600 currently in use. A provision of the law that would make it a state misdemeanor for an alien not to have his or her immigration paperwork on them could stretch his capacity.

Then there's the cost of holding an individual in his jails, which a 2006 estimate from his office pegged at an average of $85 a day. Add to that a "12 percent reduction in force availability" for each incident, where a deputy would be tied up investigating someone's immigration status.

"We're like everybody else," explained Ogden, who's in his fourth term as Yuma County Sheriff. "We don't have enough people to be doing what we're supposed to be doing anyway. But you have to prioritize. And if you start spending less time on property crimes and personal crimes, you don't want to do that."

Ogden was also concerned with another provision of the Pearce legislation that would grant a private right of action for a citizen to sue a law enforcement agency if that person believes that the agency is not pursuing immigration violations to "the full extent permitted by federal law."

The worry is that the provision, which orders that an agency pay a possible $1,000 to $5,000 per day from the action's filing, will draw frivolous claims, claims that a county will have to defend against.

"It definitely is a concern," asserted Ogden. "You're trying to do what you can for everybody. And then some person comes out and says, `I just think that you're not doing enough, that you should have done more.' Suddenly you find yourself in court, and you're taking resources, you're taking people off the road, you're hiring attorneys to defend those actions."

Ogden observed that Yuma County has a high percentage of Hispanic residents, and that their civil rights could be violated under the bill's language.

"If I stop somebody," he wondered, "how long can I sit there and detain him while I try to determine whether he's an undocumented alien? And if it takes a long period of time and he's a U.S. citizen, what am I doing to him? Because as a citizen, you don't have to carry your documentation with you."

Indeed, under the Pearce bill's language, someone is "presumed" not to be an illegal alien only if that person is carrying certain forms of ID, like an Arizona driver's license, a tribal enrollment card, or a U.S. passport.

The bill's so-called "civil rights provision" states that an officer "may not solely consider race, color or national origin" while enforcing the legislation. But that leaves open the possibility of an officer considering two of those characteristics -- an open invitation to racial profiling, which is illegal under the U.S. Constitution.

Ogden noted that there are a myriad number of documents one could use to verify lawful presence in the United States, and that his men would need training on those and how to spot forgeries, a job normally left up to Border Patrol and ICE agents. Ogden said he didn't know what the total cost of such training could be.

As for the costs related in the 2006 fact sheet his office prepared, Ogden said that the totals would be different today, due to increased Border Patrol activity in the BP's Yuma sector, but that "the multipliers would be the same, the time would be the same."

In 2006, the fact sheet projected a possible annual cost to Yuma County law enforcement of anywhere from $36,023 to over $1 million, depending on whether a simple referral is made to the Border Patrol, or if the suspect is hit with state misdemeanor or felony charges. 

Even if those projections would be different today, Ogden indicated that the per diem rate for inmates, and the 12 percent reduction in force availability would stand.

Which is why Ogden believes the legislation should be put on hold.

"I think there should be some study committees done," he said. "And not just legislators, but they should bring in all different groups of people to sit in and say let's really take a look at this. Unfortunately a lot of times we solve one problem but we cause two or three more when we solve the first one."

(Note: Thanks to radio host Carlos Galindo for bringing Sheriff Ogden's study to my attention.)
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons