Border Wall Isn't High On Our Priority List, Arizona Police Chief Says

Feb 14, 2019
Originally published on February 14, 2019 4:59 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

He was defeated in a government shutdown and budget negotiations. But though he has not received the billions he demanded for a border wall, President Trump spoke to law enforcement officers yesterday and acted as if he had won.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're building as we speak in the most desperately needed areas. And it's a big wall. It's a strong wall. It's a wall that people aren't going through very easy.

INSKEEP: There is no evidence to support the president's statement. But there is a proposed border security deal, which does include some money to extend existing steel fence in parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. It also includes other security measures. So what does a local law enforcement officer want? Let's ask one. Tucson, Ariz., Police Chief Chris Magnus is here in our studios. He attended the gathering yesterday in Washington. Chief, welcome to the program.

CHRIS MAGNUS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: You've already got steel fence, as I've seen in Arizona, along most, if not all, of the border. Do you want more?

MAGNUS: Well, I don't think that's the top priority of most police chiefs or sheriffs. We understand that border security is important, but frankly, we have a lot of other issues that we'd probably put a little higher on the agenda.

INSKEEP: Such as?

MAGNUS: Well, for one thing, really the combination of drug addiction - we are dealing with a lot of opiates that are coming across the border, fentanyl specifically. But most of them are coming through points of entry. Nonetheless, opiates and drug addiction - drug addiction's a major challenge. Homelessness, mental health issues in our community - these are priorities.

INSKEEP: I'm really interested that you did not say drug traffic or the drug trade. You said drug addiction. As a police chief, do you think at least as much about dealing with the demand for drugs as trying to interdict drug traffic?

MAGNUS: Yes. We think a lot about the demand for drugs. And I think more and more folks in policing are coming around to the reality that we need to deal with the underlying issues associated with addiction and getting people into treatment rather than just locking them up. So...

INSKEEP: And that's not a social worker job. That is a police job. You think about that.

MAGNUS: Well, it has to be done with good partners, certainly. That was one of the things we talked about yesterday in this gathering of chiefs and sheriffs, as police and sheriffs can't do it by themselves. We need support from a lot of other folks, including the government around us.

But yeah, we need to get people into treatment; get them the assistance they need; deal with issues that go along with addiction, which is often homelessness, lot of mental health issues. These are the things that I think that are keeping us up at night a lot more than a fence.

INSKEEP: Now, you testified before Congress on border security issues a few months ago. And if I'm not mistaken, you talked about staffing at ports of entry where legal traffic goes through and where illegal traffic may also be smuggled through. There is said to be some money there in this border security deal for that. Is that moving in a direction you want to go?

MAGNUS: Well, that would be a good thing. I do think that addressing the drugs, the weapons, the other contraband that comes through points of entry is a serious issue. I think most of the folks in Border Patrol would agree with that as well. So that's a step in the right direction, and anything that gets us off of being stationary on this whole immigration matter would be good.

INSKEEP: One other thing, chief. A lot of people favored President Trump's call for a wall because they view the border as being just out of control - got to do something drastic - desperate situation. As someone who lives and works near the border, does it feel to you like a situation that is out of control?

MAGNUS: It does not. I talk with other chiefs from cities near the border, as well, and border sheriffs. And I don't think there is a general feeling that things are out of control or that we're in a crisis. I think the bigger challenges come, for example, when we have individuals who are dropped off at bus stops that we have to then try to get into social agencies because they're not appropriate immigration resources or when we have kids separated from parents. These are things that stress out police.

INSKEEP: Chris Magnus, chief of police in Tucson. Thanks so much.

MAGNUS: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.