In our cover story this week, we report on the increasingly close relationship between the Border Patrol and local law-enforcement agencies. This is no coincidence. The feds are paying local departments for their cooperation through "Operation Stonegarden"--a little-known program that has become widespread both locally and nationally.
Among them, Whatcom County received the most money, with a Stonegarden grant of nearly $800,000 last year. That might sound like a lot; former Jefferson County sheriff Mike Brasfield calls Stonegarden funds "free money" that is hard to resist for cash-strapped agencies. But Whatcom was hoping for even more of a bounty. Every department submits an application proposal to the feds with an amount being sought. Whatcom requested $6.5 million.
Judging by the size of their requests, Stevens, Okanogan, Ferry, and Pend Oreille counties also were eager to participate in Stonegarden. They each received between $100,000 and $200,000 last year. The Colville Indian reservation signed on for the program as well, and got a $35,000 grant.
The Stonegarden contracts, several of which were obtained by SW, use boilerplate language that doesn't reveal much about how the program works. They state that the feds are giving the money to help agencies deal with "catastrophic and/or terrorist events." The money is also supposed to "enhance law-enforcement preparedness and operational readiness along international borders." (See the Clallam County contract.)
That could mean almost anything, and Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict says he has few requirements in exchange for the money. He is letting the Border Patrol monitor his department's radio frequencies, however.
Okanogan Sheriff Frank Rogers says his participation in Stonegarden has led him to start new patrols on the border, where his deputies work closely with the Border Patrol. The local officers are "looking for drug smuggling and any kind of illegal entries," Rogers says.
Brasfield noted another form of cooperation that the Border Patrol sought in 2009, when the former Jefferson County sheriff rebuffed the agency's overtures. In a letter to John Bates, chief of the agency's Blaine sector, Brasfield said that local departments participating in Stonegarden must "agree to detain illegal aliens and turn them over to the Border Patrol." Brasfield wrote that he didn't consider all such immigrants "criminals," as the Border Patrol seemed to. Therefore, he called the deal "unacceptable."
Other law-enforcement officials are apparently reaching a different conclusion, which helps explain why the Border Patrol's reach has of late become so extensive.