This week, Arizona 360 learned more about a new communications center in Sierra Vista that centralizes dispatch operations for most public safety agencies in Cochise County. Lorraine Rivera toured the Southeastern Arizona Communication Center known as SEACOM, and spoke to Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels about how technological resources are helping the department police border crime.
“Right now, it’s $6,000 to be smuggled into the U.S. in Cochise County. That’s $6,000 per head, three attempts. If you don’t get across in three attempts there’s a penalty. It’s a business, folks,” Dannels told a town hall.
Cochise County shares 389 miles of border with Mexico. Dannels said he believes cartels largely avoid his county because the county attorney’s office prosecutes teen smugglers. The sheriff said families seeking asylum also avoid the region, “I attribute it to the fact that you know the smugglers control what comes across the southwest border to what’s controlled south of our international border here. It’s just not the place to go.
"You got the cartels that are routing around Cochise County, east and west of us, mainly because the risk is too high to come here. When you have 100% conviction rate, when you have the will that’s on the table here in Cochise County by law enforcement and our criminal justice system as a whole, why would you come through here?” Dannels asked.
According to Dannels, the state helped his office hire more deputies to increase enforcement in the more rural areas of the county.
“Where the cartels have gone are those unprotected areas, places the federal government didn’t go. Now we went there. We have gone there,” he said.
In addition to increased enforcement the county has received funding from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The millions in private dollars funded SEACOM, a regional dispatch office that routes emergency calls. Though not every municipality in the county coordinates its calls through the center, Dannels says his office is aware of reported incidents occurring in Cochise County.
In addition to SEACOM, the Buffett Foundation helped purchase more than 500 surveillance cameras and radios to place throughout the county, including at schools and on ranches.
Dannels has faced criticism in recent years for his acceptance of private funding from Buffett, something he counters: “He’s helping other counties. He helps people throughout the world. They’re about helping people. What’s different in Cochise County? The bottom line is that’s what foundations do. He does it here.”
Dannels says the increased support in funding and partnerships in Cochise County has improved the quality of life.
“Where we’ve been over last seven years, and where we’re at in current state — it’s a great place. \It’s the best it’s been, I think it’s the best out of the 31 border counties.”