Monday, October 04, 2010

Sheriff: Military base bigger source of El Paso crime increase than Juarez cartels

David Crowder at El Paso Inc. has published an extensive interview with El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles covering several subjects that may interest Grits readers. 

Marijuana laws
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 Ju├írez 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.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like its time for a different sheriff.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Why do you say so?

Paul UK said...

Unfortunately, there is an element of truth in this. Having served in the military myself and being an army brat. There is a link about recruiting young people, taking them out of an environment where they would be subject to peer approval or disapproval for their actions. Then placing them in an environment where that the normal checks and balances are absent. Add to that where they are told they "Are the best of the nation" that can lead to disaster. It can work in some circumstances, but if you have a transient population it will not.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Paul, I'd say there's more than an element of truth to the Sheriff's statement, it's a documentable fact. LOTS of people have been surprised that, despite horrific border town violence on the Mexican side, Texas border towns have remained remarkably safe. El Paso has the lowest crime rate of the state's larger cities. Cartel violence is more likely to happen in Houston! Meanwhile, the demographics of military age recruits you and the Sheriff discuss are self-evident.

1:54 says it's time for a different Sheriff, but the only reason to do that is if you don't like politicians who tell you the truth even when it's uncomfortable.

el_longhorn said...

Refreshing honesty and candor from an elected official. I am impressed.