A conversation about the latest issues with Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
Jose Cardenas: Thank you for joining us. This week, house Republicans kicked off the debate over the immigration issue, witnesses appealed to Congress to help families and improve the country's struggling economy. Here in Arizona, a bipartisan group of prominent community leaders is hoping to lead the way with a four-point blueprint for fixing the nations broken borders? Joining me to talk about these issues is Bill Montgomery. Bill, it's good to have you back on the program. Always an honor for us. Before we talk about immigration and some of the other big issues of the day, quickly, what's going on in your office now? What initiatives are you looking at?
Bill Montgomery: The next thing we're looking to do within the office is try to meld a community police and community prosecution approach. And we're looking to have our trial division where most of our cases are handled be oriented on a geographical basis, where a group of attorneys may focus on a couple of the municipalities within Maricopa county, and then by doing that work with the same police agencies day in and day out and learn more about the communities that we're serving and that we're handling cases from and be in a position to make better decisions about how to handle cases to really try to impact how crime is hurting people in a particular neighborhood. Learn more about what that impact is.
Jose Cardenas: Kind of the theory behind community policing.
Bill Montgomery: By building relationships with community leaders and organizations, to effect better improving the quality of life of people in that given area. Right now, we could have a prosecutor who handles one case from Wickenburg and then from east mesa and it's hard to really get to know the communities that you're serving in that way because of such a diverse area in which you're handling cases.
Jose Cardenas: Do you have the resources to make this kind of adjustment?
Bill Montgomery: It's going to have to be phased in, given the fact that we haven't been able to adjust base compensation for five years, I don't think I'm in a position to ask prosecutors to in addition to handling these cases, now go out and do additional tasks after work hours. But working with other Maricopa county officials, we're working very hard to try to address that issue and it's hurt us some other ways too quite frankly. Last year alone we had a 20% turnover in attorneys who had experience between five and 10 years of prosecution. And that has a secondary effect, too, because that's the group that I look to to be the next generation of leadership in the office and people who are just about ready to move up into additional positions of increasing responsibility.
Jose Cardenas: And as I understand it, you're losing them to other agencies that are paying them substantially more.
Bill Montgomery: Right. We've seen other prosecution agencies, other counties, other cities, the federal government for another one, and they're able to offer raises anywhere from 10 in one case, $40,000 and that's pretty significant. I don't have the luxury to try to be able to counter that kind of compensation adjustment.
Jose Cardenas: So from that tough issue in terms of running your agency, somehow you've found the time to deal with one of the most pressing issues facing our country, which is immigration reform. Now in the past, Arizona's involvement in this issue has been justified as the federal government's not doing anything so we need to do something. Now, you've got the federal government's attention, both at the house, the Senate and also, the president. They're all doing something. So what role is there for Arizona to play in this?
Bill Montgomery: I think there's a huge opportunity. You know, you could say that we led the way on enforcement policies and trying to define a role for states and enforcing immigration laws and we know how far an individual state can go. But if we want to address the root cause for all the issues that Arizona faced and that served as the justifications, the federal government has to do their job. And so based upon the lessons learned, our ability with leaders within the Arizona community from varied interests and immigration reform came together to create a framework known as SANE and from our experience in what we were able to come up with, I think it can inform the debate at the federal level.
Jose Cardenas: We've seen the Senate's proposal, we saw the president's right after that and more recently this week, we've heard a little bit of what's going on in the house. What does SANE have to offer that's different?
Bill Montgomery: I think the very first thing that SANE can offer is how you address border security in terms of how do you define it, how do you declare when you've actually accomplished it and how can that be worked in with other reforms that have been proposed? And quite honestly, we were able to identify a definition of operational control used by the government accountability office in a February 2011 report that was able to survey the border and determine that using those definitions within that report, which I would argue are objective definitions, that 44% of the border was under some degree of operational control. We have an objective measurement that has proven workable in going out to the field and taking stock of where we're at. We have 56% to go. Well, while we're completing that other percent, we can work on the other administrative reforms, whether that's identifying a guest worker program, whether that's looking at a process of normalization or legalization to provide status for the population that's here without lawful authority. Those can occur in parallel and once we have a declaration that the border is under operational control, we can begin implementation of the reforms. What we're able to do in that regard is address concerns that border security would be used to hold other reforms hostage and that it was such an amorphous concept that we'd never be able to actually say that we have accomplished it. A lot of the other reforms and proposals that I've heard so far have kind of been around the edge on that. But I think what we came up with in Arizona can bridge the gap between what role should border security play in other reforms and how would we measure.
Jose Cardenas: How do you make sure that Arizona's voice is heard, how do you make sure mine is? I apologize but how do you do that? The debate is focused in Washington.
Bill Montgomery: And honestly, too, that's where debate needs to be because we're talking about responsibilities and reforms that only the federal government can undertake but our two U.S. senators have taken the lead on trying to propose some of the reforms and I'm sure that as we move forward, other members of the House of Representatives may look at Arizona's delegation to confirm or deny some of the assumptions and some of the premises being offered. The same thing can occur, too, with the Senate, with either senator McCain or senator Flake.
Jose Cardenas: Are you working with them right now?
Bill Montgomery: I've been in contact with our delegation, as have other representatives and certainly I think from the perspective that I have as the chief prosecutor in Maricopa county where every day we deal with the criminal impact of illegal immigration, I think that our experience can certainly inform the federal debate on how to address the overarching issue of immigration.
Jose Cardenas: And I think it's important to emphasize that SANE is a bipartisan effort.
Bill Montgomery: Certainly. Yeah, and to underscore that point, too, we had folks participating literally across the entire political spectrum. I like to think I offered a conservative voice on that from the perspective of a law enforcement official informing why I wanted to see certain things done. If we're successful and I really think we have an opportunity to address immigration reform and do it in a way that's fair, that's respectful of the rule of law, it takes into account objective reasons for us to establish border security, then for Arizona, we'll take care of all of the issues that we've been trying to deal with at a local level for the last almost decade.
Jose Cardenas: Bill, let's talk now about another issue that's really roiling the nation ever since the Newtown shootings and that's gun control. Do you think there are any changes that could be reasonably made to the current system with respect to gun control?
Bill Montgomery: Whenever I look at a situation that begins a discussion about how criminal laws could address a particular issue, the first thing I do is look at what do we have on the books right now and are we effectively enforcing those laws? When I look at what we have right now on the books and each one of the different mass shootings that occurred, I don't see anything more that we can do from a criminal perspective. What I think we could do --
Jose Cardenas: What about in those cases, many people think that there had been a limitation on the size of the gun magazines, for example, that that would have lessened the carnage.
Bill Montgomery: Fallacy.
Jose Cardenas: Why is that?
Bill Montgomery: If you take one gun with a 30-round clip and give somebody 10 rounds, they'll carry two more guns.
Jose Cardenas: They have to reload and people would point to the Gifford situation where the gunman was apparently in that process when he was successfully tackled and that stopped the shooting.
Bill Montgomery: Well, and the reality there, too, is I believe his gun jammed and he was trying to unjam it and maybe switch clips, but what I would say is this: That if you're going to limit the number of rounds in one clip, okay, depending upon what someone's goal is, they'll just carry more weapons, they'll carry two pistols instead of one. So it's again -- it's a false assumption that if you try to limit either the size of the magazine or the types of weapons that may be sold, that as a consequence, you will necessarily impede the ability of someone to carry out horrific acts of violence like we've seen, our conversation could be better spent and have more of an immediate and long-lasting impact if we look at some of the other commonalities of the individuals involved.
Jose Cardenas: What about things like universal background checks?
Bill Montgomery: The only people who will then apply to purchase a weapon knowing they'll go through a background check will be the law-abiding in the first place.
Jose Cardenas: And you don't think that would catch any of the people who might otherwise, there is some thinking that, for example, if you restrict access, gang members, for example, would have a greater difficulty obtaining weapons.
Bill Montgomery: No, they wouldn't. There's already a black market and the availability of weapons for gang members, they're stolen, they're purchased in other avenues by people who are willing to deal in weapons with those engaged in criminal activity. Again, all we're doing is setting up a construct in which we're fooling ourselves.
Jose Cardenas: So what things would you do differently or anything?
Bill Montgomery: What I would do differently and what I was alluding to about where this conversation really should be is when you look at each of those different incidents of violence, there was someone who had a mental health issue. And if we focused on how this country views mental illness, take the stigma away from it, if we pulled a hamstring, nobody would think twice about us going to see a physical therapist but if someone's having a hard time interacting with others and dealing with the stresses of life, they're seen as weak if they go to see a counselor. We need to change that. We need to change the ability of people to have access to mental healthcare in that regard. We need to review to what degree are we as a society willing to fund the ability for someone to have varying degrees of access to mental healthcare and also varying degrees of supervision. We have a mental health court where we try to divert defendants whose primary reason was because of a mental illness and allow them to be supervised by a court, to undergo treatment and to stay on their medication. I've been told by parents that sometimes, that's the only thing that will keep their child engaged and following through.
Jose Cardenas: Isn't the case, though, that for many of the people who actually have been involved in some of these horrific crimes, they never exhibited the kind of conduct that would have resulted in their being examined before committing something as awful as Newtown?
Bill Montgomery: I don't think that's accurate. The Newtown shooting, that young man, his mother was inquiring how to get him committed.
Jose Cardenas: But that's my point, the laws at least what I read, there was no basis that they would have been able to do that. Let me switch to a different aspect of this. Are there regional limitations on where you could carry guns that you would be supportive of?
Bill Montgomery: I would have to say that you've got to be careful because we're talking about a constitutional right.
Jose Cardenas: What about schools?
Bill Montgomery: Schools -- if we're talking about school safety, that's something different than saying somebody wants to carry in an environment where there's no reason for them to have it there, there's no training going on or a contest or anything. But in terms of carrying on a school, I've stated that if the district wanted to have a policy where teachers could volunteer to carry and go through training, that I don't have a problem with that.
Jose Cardenas: And the rationale there would be that they could deal with one of these deranged gunmen?
Bill Montgomery: Correct.
Jose Cardenas: But is there really any evidence of this? The on the studies I've seen have indicated that the kind of training that you're talking about is not the kind of training that you need to deal in a stressful situation and the one study I'm aware of, people end up shooting other innocent victims, they end up shooting themselves or they get killed by the gunman and these are simulated. There's no reason to believe that somebody would have stopped the gunman in the theater.
Bill Montgomery: I disagree strongly. I think you can do it.
Jose Cardenas: The right type of training is more like swat training and we're not going to do that.
Bill Montgomery: I disagree with that. We're learning more about the nature of mass shootings and what happens in those situations. Police are not going to respond soon enough. On average, a mass shooting is concluded within about 12 minutes. On average, it takes 18 minutes for law enforcement to respond. If we are unwilling to recognize that if we want someone to be able to intervene and save lives, we need to train people so that if something happens, they can respond then and there --
Jose Cardenas: It's more than just training them how to use a gun.
Bill Montgomery: Correct. It's not just basic firearms safety, no. It would be how would you respond in a situation that would require you to have to engage a shooter who came onto campus and being able to respond? The other part to this that's important --
Jose Cardenas: I don't mean to cut you off but we're running out of time. Off-number of sheriffs including our own sheriff saying that they don't intend to obey any restrictions that may come out of this Congress. Do you agree with that?
Bill Montgomery: In terms of gun laws? There is a Supreme Court case on point in which the federal government is not permitted to basically use local and state executive officials, law enforcement officials, to carry out federal law. They can't just do that. We could enter into agreements to do that, but that's not how our system of federalism works and I also would expect that any unconstitutional limitations on the second amendment would be quickly litigated and we would figure out whether or not the action was appropriate but if we go down that road of gun control and we're misaddressing mental illness, we're setting ourselves up for failure. The last gun ban was 1994, columbine happened five years later, it didn't do anything to stop that.
Jose Cardenas: Let me switch gears on you, ethics. You had called for better legislation, there's some proposals in the Arizona legislature this week to provide the kind of specificity that you said is needed. Do you support them?
Bill Montgomery: I do, I do and there are a number of different pieces of legislation that I think are reflecting where we need to go with our campaign finance laws which is to ensure that we have a system in which people know where money's coming from, who it's going to and how it's being spent and also would provide a system of accountability so that people who are knowingly or intentionally violating those laws have a real sanction.
Jose Cardenas: And what about the last time you were on the show we talked about child safety measures. Big part of the governor's budget, where do you see us going there?
Bill Montgomery: As they continue to get resources to carry out their social welfare mission, one of the important recommendations from the governor's task force was the creation of an office of child welfare investigations. That's in its infancy right now. I'm watching with great interest and a lot of support to help that get up and going. And as we review our joint investigative protocol, we're going to take into account that we now have that specialized investigative unit and we're going to start moving that protocol towards recognizing that OCWI, I can't believe I created a new acronym but they're the partners with law enforcement and cps gets to focus on their mission.
Jose Cardenas: We're going to have to end the interview, Bill Montgomery, thanks for joining us.