Wiles offered his opinion that the state's marijuana laws are counterproductive, declaring "I’m not for legalization, per se, but I think the way we deal with the end user is probably not appropriate. Maybe, we should keep the law in place where the due process is still there to protect people’s rights … but rather than put you in jail, we’re going to put you in treatment and concentrate the jail and prison time on the people who are supplying it." To Wiles, "it seems to me to be quite harsh to take an 18-year-old kid, find a joint on him, charge him with a Class B misdemeanor, and if he’s convicted or pleads guilty and gets put on a month’s probation, all of a sudden, he can’t get student loans anymore and probably can’t get hired as a police officer for a length of time. I mean, there’s a lot of impact. You’re talking about young kids who use poor judgment and make mistakes."
Unions, budgets and taxes
Another interesting discussion centered on the union contract with deputies in his department which has proved unsustainable during the current downturn. Wiles opined that, “When this contract was approved back in 2007, the commissioners curried the favor of the sheriff’s union. They want the support of the union and its members. They want their votes. They want their PAC money. So, they gave them a very, very good contract that was not sustainable in our economy today.” Damn! Tell like it is, Sheriff! Of course, El Paso isn't the only jurisdiction facing that problem, but you'll seldom here elected officials admit that budget-busting law-enforcement raises were enacted to "curry favor" with unions. (Though to be fair, Austin city councilmember Bill Spelman recently voiced similar concerns about excessive public safety spending.)
There was also discussion of reducing the number of deputies assigned to patrol as opposed to staffing the jail. Crowder notes that, "Commissioner Haggerty and county judge candidate Jaime Perez have both advocated getting rid of the sheriff department’s patrols out in the county because that service is not mandated." Wiles opposes such cuts, but it's telling that the budget crisis has spawned such debates statewide, when not long ago the idea of reducing the number of deputies on patrol would have been unthinkable.
Military base expansion causing crime increase?
Interestingly, Wiles sees little documentable connection between crime rates in El Paso and the bloody drug feuds in Juarez, but instead believes the expansion of Fort Bliss, a large Army base in El Paso, will be a bigger source of local crime in the near term. On Juarez: "We have seen slight increases in crime last year," he said. "This year, it’s pretty stable. We can’t say with any certainty that it’s significantly related to the violence in Juárez because most of it is property crime – burglaries and robberies – and we don’t believe those things are related." However, a larger military base, he declared, will definitely have:
a significant impact on us. That’s not to say people in the military are bad. My father retired from the military after 21 years. It’s the fact of the numbers and the ages, too. The crime-prone age is between 15 and 25, and many of the military people that are going to be moving in here are single, young soldiers who are away from home for the first time. They’re going to go out and have fun and party, and unfortunately, we’re going to see increases in crime. I think we already have in DWIs. We’ve had a couple of fatalities where military people have been involved. Family disturbances, bar fights, so, yeah, it’s definitely going to have an impact on the calls for service for law enforcement here in El Paso.Immigration enforcement not Sheriff's job
Wiles also said he opposes the idea of local law enforcement arresting undocumented immigrants because "I don’t have the staffing to take on another agency’s responsibility. ... My contention is I don’t have the resources. I don’t have the training. I’m not willing to take on the liability that’s going to affect our taxpayers ultimately if we mess up."
See the rest of the lengthy interview.