- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection are among those set to testify about border drug trafficking at a field hearing of a U.S. Senate committee in Phoenix on Monday.

Ducey is expected to outline his new efforts to use state police troopers to beef up border security during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing. The Republican governor has ordered the Department of Public Safety to create a strike force to aid federal, county and local law enforcement address drug trafficking and human smuggling.

The hearing is focused on heroin trafficking and Arizona’s role as a smuggling corridor for the drug officials say is a growing national problem. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske (kur-lih-KOW’-skee) and several Arizona officials also will testify about efforts to target drug trafficking organizations.

Ducey said Friday that he will focus state efforts on partnering with federal, county and local officials to address smuggling.

“What we want to do is take the over $300 million that we’re spending in the Department of Public Safety and the assets we have with law enforcement and make sure they’re coordinating with county sheriffs in border counties to do a better job,” Ducey said.

Border sheriffs in Yuma and Santa Cruz counties said recently that new state efforts should focus on boosting highway patrols, aiding sheriffs that already have deputies on smuggling task forces and other support efforts. But Ducey said he’s gotten positive feedback and will provide more details of his plan at Monday’s hearing.

In letters to border sheriffs last month, Ducey said the new state police strike force is designed to work with state, local and federal agencies to “stop border-related crime,” according to the letter.

“The goal of the Border Strike Force is to bolster your current efforts, not dictate to you or any other sheriff how to combat the issues we are facing,” Ducey’s letters said. “Additionally, it is intended to build and design innovative strategies and work groups to effectively deter, disrupt, and dismantle border-related crime.”

The Republican governor’s move is among the first he’s made since making border security a top priority during his 2014 primary campaign. Earlier this year, Ducey gave about $560,000 to sheriffs in Yuma and Cochise counties for border security efforts by shifting money from two inland counties.

The hearing is chaired by Sen. Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, and Arizona Sen. John McCain will also attend.

“The narcotics being transported through Arizona are poisoning America’s children and fueling drug-related violence throughout the Western Hemisphere,” McCain said in a statement. “I commend Gov. Ducey’s leadership in creating of an anti-drug trafficking strike force, and look forward to discussing ways to support and strengthen his administration’s efforts, which can be used as a national model.”

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