PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) – Sheriff Paul Babeu has announced he plans to use deadly force, if necessary, to drive smugglers and border bandits out of his part of the desert.
The Pinal County Sheriff's Office has recently been in the spotlight for sniffing out smugglers and their drug loads. Sheriff Babeu told KGUN9 News he's about to go on the offensive with a massive show of force to stop smugglers and bandits.
“We're sending out three different teams of eight to fifteen deputies in each that are heavily armed, even with sniper teams, out to the desert at all hours of the day and night,” Babeu said.
Typically, deputies would sneak up on smugglers before arresting them, but Babeu says not this time.
“We're going to wait until these cartel members come on through and we're going to announce ourselves in Spanish in this known drug smuggling corridor. That this is the Sheriff, drop your weapons, you're under arrest,” Babeu said.
In the week following the shooting death of a Border Patrol agent, the Sheriff admits the chances of having a gun fight in the desert are extremely high. After all, it's the same desert where one of his deputies was shot and where they've seized thousands of pounds of drugs. Babeu says deadly force will be used if his deputies confront dangerous cartels.
“I've given specific instruction, no less than lethal force is going to be used. It's all lethal force only and we go into that environment knowing that we're likely expecting an armed threat from these people,” Babeu said.
9 On Your Side caught up with county supervisor, Pete Rios, to ask him what he thinks about Babeu's latest tactic.
“My hope would have been that the federal government would have taken this kind of risk. To some extent I'm concerned for the brave men and women in Pinal County that work for the sheriff,” Rios said.
Supervisor Rios told 9OYS he thinks deputies could be put to better use by trying to decrease response times. Rios says it currently takes a Pinal County deputy anywhere from 10 to 12 minutes to respond to a priority call. Rios admitted he knows Sheriff Babeu will do what he thinks is best for the community.
“If at the end of the day the sheriff feels compelled to do it, he will do it. I have a lot of respect for the Sheriff and what he thinks is the best interest for the county he will obviously do,” Rios said.
Babeu told KGUN 9 one of his main concerns is that these border bandits have recently been impersonating law enforcement. Babeu tells us smugglers may believe deputies are bandits which heightens the danger, but says they'll be ready. The Sheriff would not say when the operation will begin or how long it will last.