PHOENIX (CN) - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced plans Monday to expand a "strike force" of state police to combat drug trafficking along the Arizona-Mexico border during a field hearing of a U.S. Senate committee in Phoenix.
Ducey, a Republican, created the Arizona Border Strike Force Bureau in September to aid in eliminating the number of drugs smuggled into the United States through Arizona's shared border with Mexico.
In a field hearing Monday of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in Phoenix, Ducey asked for the federal government's assistance in funding the strike force and touted its successes in two months of operation.
"Since the creation of the Arizona Border Strike Force Bureau just over two months ago, we've already seized more than $2.2 million, multiple firearms, nearly 4,000 lbs. of marijuana, 73 pounds of meth and nearly 19 pounds of heroin - more than was seized in all of 2014," Ducey testified during the hearing.
The strike force acts under the Arizona Department of Public Safety, but only has minimal resources and personnel to partner with local law enforcement agencies to help deter drug smuggling.
"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 testified. "More funding. More assets - more planes, helicopters, radios and equipment added to our arsenal. More personnel - troopers, analysts, pilots - people to gather intelligence on these criminals, and people to take them down."
The hearing was attended by Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, who voiced his support for the strike force.
"I commend Gov. Ducey's leadership in creating of an anti-drug trafficking strike force, and look forward to discussing ways to support and strengthen his administration's efforts, which can be used as a national model," McCain said in a statement. "This hearing will also provide important expert perspective and information on the threats America faces today from international drug cartels and how local, state and federal government can work together to combat these criminal organizations."
The committee also heard testimony from Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, who says Cochise County residents travel to Tucson to buy heroin because "it is a well-known fact that the illegal drugs that enter the country through Nogales travel north to Tucson and then are distributed to other destinations throughout the nation."
Ducey gave Cochise County $1 million earlier this month to help complete a new communications center.
"Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has been instrumental and supportive in our efforts here in Cochise County to construct a regional public safety communication/intelligence center and providing additional resources to our efforts to combat drug smuggling and illicit acts nexus to our insecure border," Dannels said. "This true partnership unifies local and state efforts in hopes of enhancing the quality of life for our citizens and beyond."
While Ducey's strike force garnered praise from McCain and Dannels, the ACLU of Arizona questioned its long-term effectiveness.
The ACLU says Arizona's strike force sounds similar to former Texas governor Rick Perry's "Operation Strong Safety," which was initiated to enforce the Texas-Mexico border following the influx of undocumented children across the border.
"Years later, bipartisan critics have called for the program to be audited and/or abandoned, while independent sources have been unable to discern any enforcement benefits," the ACLU wrote Friday in a letter to Ducey.
"At a time when Arizona border communities are among the safest in the nation and unauthorized crossings are at historic lows, the governor's proposed 'strike force' appears to be a misguided effort that is likely to create more problems than it solves," Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona, said in a statement. "Arizonans have seen time and again that involving state police in U.S. border policies damages the well-being of our communities and the image of our state."Follow @jamierossCNS
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