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The La Paz County Sheriff’s Office was recently awarded grants amounting to $325,000 from federal and state sources. The grants will be used to set up the county’s own “Operation Stonegarden” unit and for safety equipment for deputies.

The bigger grant for $300,000 is to be used to create an Operation Stonegarden unit. Sheriff’s spokesperson Lt. Richard Epps said La Paz County had received funding from Yuma County, but now they will be able to set up their own unit.

The funding is from the Department of Homeland Security through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Working through the State Homeland Security Grant Program, Operation Stonegarden provides funding to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to enhance their capabilities to support joint efforts at securing the nation’s borders. It is one of several grant programs from Homeland Security that started in 2002.

Funding may be used for additional personnel, overtime pay, equipment and travel and lodging for the deployment of state and local personnel to improve border security, according to the National Immigration Forum website.

Congress appropriated $90 million for Operation Stonegarden in the current fiscal year. That’s the same amount as was appropriated in the last fiscal year and a big increase over the $55 million for 2015. To be eligible for this funding, entities must be law enforcement agencies located on or near the U.S. border. In fiscal year 2019, the National Immigration Forum said 70 percent of the funding went to states on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Epps said FEMA was impressed with what La Paz County was doing and decided the county should be its own Stonegarden entity rather than working through Yuma County. He said law enforcement agencies were invited to join them, and the Quartzsite Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety did so. The Parker Police Department and the Colorado River Indian Tribes Police Department were also invited, but they have not submitted any paperwork to join.

Epps told a Parker radio station that, while they do intercept border crossers, their primary focus is on human trafficking and drug smuggling. He said the county’s location between Los Angeles and Phoenix on a major corridor (Interstate 10) means they will likely be putting the Stonegarden funding to good use.

The $25,000 from the Attorney General’s Office will be used for Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) tracking equipment for patrol vehicles. Epps said this will enhance safety for deputies, and allow for better planning and dispatching of deputies. He said the department had wanted this capability for years, but they didn’t have the money for it.   

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