The Rockwall County Commissioners Court last Thursday discussed a possible participation in a federal grant system, called the Southwest Border Rural Law Enforcement Information Sharing and Interdiction Assistance Grant program.
Operated by the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance, a subsidiary department of the Department of Justice, the program seeks to increase funding to law enforcement agencies (specifically sheriff’s offices) in counties along the United States’ southwestern border with Mexico, and to create strong interdepartmental information sharing systems with sheriffs' offices across the southwestern states, ostensibly to address drug and human trafficking, sexual assaults and other forms of violent crime.
According to a document published by the BJA, departments nearer to the border are given priority consideration, but sheriff’s offices across the state (and in New Mexico, Arizona and California) are eligible for participation in the grant.
Rockwall County Sheriff Harold Eavenson explained that the particularities of the grant agreement were complicated, and several of the county’s commissioners expressed some concern over why the Rockwall County Sheriff’s Department would participate when some border departments have apparently declined to take part.
Eavenson further clarified that application for the grant was restricted by a looming (and now passed) July 2 deadline, and that he would have liked more time to discuss the issue with border agencies and with law enforcement umbrella groups near the border.
County Judge David Sweet also expressed some concern over the potential legal pitfalls of entering into a potentially entangling grant system between the Rockwall County Sheriff’s Department and any southern border sheriffs’ offices, especially as it pertains to the actual apportionment of federal funds, and how much would stay with the county and how much would be passed on to and utilized by a coalition of border law enforcement agencies.
Further discussion revealed that the tight deadlines for joining the grant are due to the removal of state funding for the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition.
“I’m going to help you (Sheriff Eavenson) and vote no,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Dennis Bailey said, giving voice to his growing concerns over the complicated situation.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Cliff Sevier also expressed concern over the apparently in-limbo fate of the Coalition.
“I didn’t know any of this before, what he just brought up about the Coalition not being a legal entity after August 31,” Sevier said of the Coalition’s impending loss of funding and legal disbandment. “That’s very important to know.”
The issue was left open-ended, with the Commissioners heavily indicating their desire not to participate in the apparently hastily prepared grant.