Border Watch: How is Sheriff Estrada battling smugglers?

Border Watch: How is Sheriff Estrada battling smugglers?

CREATED Jun 30, 2011

Reporter: Sergio Avila
Web Producer: Laura Rios

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - When drugs are seized in Santa Cruz County by local law enforcement, the contraband will usually end up at the sheriff's department. The drugs are piled into a shed that's packed from floor to ceiling with tens of thousands of pounds of drugs.

It's just one part of Sheriff Tony Estrada's ongoing battle against the cartels. Estrada says the border is more secure now than it's ever been.

The amount of drugs in the shed could be proof that it is.

"In my 43 years I've had in law enforcement here in Santa Cruz County, there has never been more resources. There has never been more cooperation, more partnership, more exchange of information than we have had here," Estrada said.

In 2010, those resources led to Estrada's deputies seizing nearly 26,000 pounds of pot, 32 pounds of cocaine, 18 pounds of heroin, and $56,000 in cash. One of Estrada's Lieutenants is also commander of the Santa Cruz County Metro Task Force, a group of officers from a variety of state and federal agencies who investigate border crimes.

Estrada admits other sheriffs take a different approach to combat smuggling. In Pinal County, Sheriff Paul Babeu takes on the smugglers head on. KGUN9 asked Estrada why we don't see that being done by his office.

"I don't have the budget," he said. "I don't have the manpower that he (Sheriff Babeu) may have. I have other issues to deal with with the people who reside and come through Santa Cruz County."

Estrada tells KGUN9 he feels border security is more a responsibility for the federal government, with his office being a critical partner.

So how does Santa Cruz County's head lawman respond to critics who say the border isn't secure?

"I think they need to understand that we're not dodging bullets the way some of those rhetorics are, that these things are out of control, that things are happening that we can't do anything about. I don't think that's the reality," said Estrada. "The reality of it is that it's an active border, we'll have these things happening. I don't care where you put this border. If you put this border in Pinal County, if you put this border in Maricopa County you're going to have the same issues."

Estrada says smuggling activity in Santa Cruz County has slowed down since the shooting of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Estrada feels the smugglers haven't stopped, but just switched their route.