Arizona Border Strike Force

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Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milstead will talk about the Arizona Border Strike Force designed to work with state, local and federal agencies to stop border crime and drug cartels.

Jose Cardenas: Good evening. I'm Jose Cardenas. We'll talk to DPS director Frank Milstead about Arizona's border strike force. Plus, find out what the Arizona Diamondbacks are doing to grow their fan base in Mexico. And in sounds of Cultura SOC a celebration of Spanish arts and culture happening here in the valley. All this coming up straight ahead on "Horizonte."

Video: "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Jose Cardenas: Late last year, the Arizona department of public safety created the Arizona border strike force to take on border crime and drug cartels. It is part of Governor Doug Ducey's new plan to target smuggling across the border. Joining me now to talk about the strike force is Arizona department of public safety director Frank Milstead. Colonel, welcome to "Horizonte."

Frank Milstead: It's a pleasure to be here.

Jose Cardenas: I know from the papers there have been successes in the program recently. Before we get to that, let's talk about the origin. You had the sheriff's association saying this is not a good use of resources.

Frank Milstead: Originally there was some opposition. I had spent a lot of time last year working with the sheriffs and making sure that we didn't try to use a one-size-fits-all mentality when we put together the strike force. We knew each of the sheriffs were the resident expert in their particular counties and he could tailor-make this program to each of the counties' needs.

Jose Cardenas: What they were saying as I recall that you could use the manpower that you're going to put on this strike force, it would be better used by filling vacancies and putting more people on the highway.

Frank Milstead: And that is actually one of the goals of the program. The program actually allows for an additional 20 troopers for southern Arizona to provide 24-hour roadway service on the Arizona highways with strike force dollars, and right now, the majority of the state does not have 24-hour coverage. But if you look at it from the governor's view, just being pragmatic, it's easier for him to direct the efforts of the Arizona Department of Public Safety and my troopers instead of trying to have some say in the political subdivisions of the county. This is an ongoing commitment from the governor. We're looking at a 10-year program with consistent efforts towards the interdiction of drugs on Arizona highways and crossing the Arizona border and the human trafficking piece where people are being trafficked into America for sex slaves or for indentured servitude.

Jose Cardenas: Give us a sense for the magnitude of the problem and why it was the governor thought he needed a special strike force.

Frank Milstead: You just about cannot turn on the TV without seeing something about heroin in America. The death rates have doubled, especially back east. You see more and more children addicted to opiate drugs. So they start on painkillers, something they get from their mom's medicine cabinet and next thing you know they find out that heroin is cheaper, it's a better high and ultimately with the use of heroin you become addicted. You go to prison or you kill yourself because you overdose. You can't maintain your levels.

Jose Cardenas: And those are the problems he wanted the task force to address?

Frank Milstead: If you look at the economic impact that it has on Arizona, right now if you talk to director Greg McKay from the Department of Child Services he'll tell you that of the 18,000 kids that are displaced from homes in Arizona, 78% of those homes have a drug problem. If you talk to Director Ryan over at the Department of Corrections, he'll tell you that of the 41,000 beds that are occupied by prisoners in Arizona, 70% of those prisoners have a drug problem. So if we don't do something about the supply issue, and we let it continue, it will continue to erode the economic resources of the state. So the back half of this program is the prevention, education and treatment piece so as we're trying to impact supply of drugs into Arizona, the director from the office of youth, faith and family is working on bringing to bear the education treatment and prevention piece. It's really a holistic approach for the state. Instead of wondering what's the governor going to do, what's the federal government going to do or what haven't they done? The governor wants to do what he can do to make a difference inside the confines of Arizona using the resources that we have.

Jose Cardenas: You indicated earlier that you've taken some steps to address the concerns that were voiced by the sheriff. Where are they now?

Frank Milstead: I think we're in a pretty good shape. Cochise County has already taken two task force officers into their task force. The sheriff from Pima County has agreed to participate, and I was down meeting with Sheriff Estrada in Santa Cruz County.

Jose Cardenas: What are you doing? How many bodies do you have on this and what are they actually doing?

Frank Milstead: Right now, there's no new dollars. There's no funding. We're using existing resources. And so I ran for the Chairmanship of the Alliance to combat transnational threats and so now, I am the chairman of that operation and that gives me a detective, a lead detective from Homeland Security Investigations and I also have a Chief of Staff that's assigned to Border Patrol that work for me on that task force. So we're bringing to bear at times 14 different agencies, both sheriff's office, federal agencies and state troopers, all together to do some desert operations to see if we're on the right track, to see if we can make a difference with these groups coming together and putting together desert operations, all the way up to I-8. We're 75 miles north of the border most of the time and we're finding the backpackers bringing primarily in marijuana into Arizona.

Jose Cardenas: As I mentioned earlier in the interview there's been some news stories recently about some successes. We've got a couple of pictures that we're going to put up of some recent drug busts. The articles mentioned the use of K-9s. Is that something new?

Frank Milstead: We have actually taken all the K-9 resources from the Arizona department of public safety and we've put them under the strike force banner. The cartels are becoming very good at hiding drugs in hidden compartments inside of vehicles. So when a trooper stops somebody on a traffic violation and they find indicators of criminal activity, they can use a dog to help them really know if there's drugs hidden in the car.

Jose Cardenas: So the pictures we had were of seized drugs. I think there have been at least three or four major drug busts. What value is associated with what you guys have been able to pick up?

Frank Milstead: Well, it's the intrinsic value that I'm most concerned about. It's not about street value of drugs for me at this time. It's can we put together these operations? Can we make a difference? And if the strike force isn't needed, then my question to those who say we don't need it, how can backpackers carrying 25-kilo backpacks of marijuana spend six or nine days in the Arizona desert completely undetected anybody and make drops around Gila Bend so it can be distributed to the rest of the country? So our success isn't going to be measured off of one metric. It's going to be what are the drug uses in high school? What are the interdictions that we can make? How many pounds of drugs are we taking? What do our overdose rates look like? When we do our investigations on those stops where we track it backwards to drop houses in Arizona, and track it forward to a control delivery in New Jersey, how is that going? What are those differences that we have made by trying to impact supply? What's the pricing of the drugs? Can you still get a pint of heroin for $8 or have we made that less likely by the impact that we've made?

Jose Cardenas: As I understand it, this program, this project has provided an opportunity to enhance our relationships with your colleague, your counterparts in Sonora.

Frank Milstead: That's correct. I've been working directly with my counterpart, the Director of Public Safety in Sonora. We're providing them training on crime scene management. We're providing them training on how to protect their officers when they're doing interdiction stops to make sure scout cars or cover cars for the cartels don't injure or kill the Sonoran officers. We're trying to figure out how we can share basic intelligence and information between our two countries and our two states to help each other in this process because when I was down speaking with the Mexican people, they have same concerns that middle-class Americans have about their kids being addicted to drugs. The safety when they're in the park playing. Are the cartels going to somehow negatively impact their lives? So the concerns on both sides of the border are very similar.

Jose Cardenas: And a good opportunity to enhance the relationships with our neighbors to the south which haven't always been that good, at least not in recent years.

Frank Milstead: And we all know this instinctively. The way that we are most efficient, the way we get things done quickly is through a trust relationship and through those relationships themselves. But as we build trust, we build efficiency into the process.

Jose Cardenas: Colonel, one last question. You mentioned a 10-year program. What can we expect to see in the upcoming years? Additional manpower or projects or what?

Frank Milstead: Right now, the governor has a request into the legislature to approve $31.5 million for the strike force. $10 million is ongoing funding to provide what will eventually be an additional 50 officers and both sheriff's deputies and troopers, and then finally there's some one-time funding to pay for some equipment so we can conduct these operations.

Jose Cardenas: Thanks for joining us on "Horizonte," this is a very important program and keep us posted.

Frank Milstead: Absolutely, sir, thanks for your time.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you.

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