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David Griffith

David Griffith

David Griffith has been editor of POLICE Magazine since December 2001. He brings more than 25 years of experience on magazines and newspapers to POLICE. A Maggie award-winning journalist, his byline has appeared on hundreds of articles in POLICE and other national magazines.



Melanie Basich

Melanie Basich

Managing Editor Melanie Basich joined POLICE Magazine in 2000 (when her last name was still Hamilton). An award-winning journalist, she has covered such topics as agency budgets, officer suicide, emerging law enforcement technologies, and active shooter tactics. She writes and manages the product section of POLICE.
Editor's Notes

Nogales PD: On the Front Lines of the Drug War

The south Arizona police department's 65 sworn officers take action against smuggling and enforce border security on one of America's toughest beats.

July 22, 2010  |  by - Also by this author


A Nogales PD cruiser patrols downtown Nogales, a border community of 19,000 permanent residents and a gateway for the narcotics trade. Photo by Paul Clinton.

As a gateway for the smuggling of drugs, people, and other contraband, Nogales, Ariz., has rightly become one of the focal points of American law enforcement.

As such, border security is the primary mission that's handled by border patrol officers and, more fluidly, by the 65 sworn officers of the Nogales Police Department.

These officers are seizing narcotic loads and assisting U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at border checkpoints. They come into contact with smugglers on vehicle stops, on foot and in the city's stormwater drainage channels.

Yesterday and today, POLICE Magazine is speaking to these officers about their mission, challenges, tools of enforcement and the stresses of police work in one of the toughest jurisdictions in America.

As the department steps up its enforcement of transportation operations of narcotic loads from Mexico—cash, guns and ammunition flow south—drug cartels south of the border are answering like a rattlesnake uncovered under a rock by a rancher.

Nogales police officers have heard the hiss of cartel death threats, and are ever watchful of the dangers presented to them when on patrol. So far, much of the violence has been contained to the Mexican side of Nogales, which like El Paso-Juarez is a town that sprawls from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. All of the 131 murders so far in 2010 have occurred in Nogales, Sonora, south of the border.

To wage the campaign, Chief Jeffrey Kirkham and the department have made important strides to bring Nogales PD new equipment and vehicles via state grant programs and asset forfeiture proceeds.

Kirkham, who took over in January, is a veteran cop with 25 years experience in Arizona agencies that includes assignments as a Maricopa County Sheriff's deputy, Mesa PD officer and lieutenant, member of the Pinal County Sheriff's command staff, and Apache Junction PD reserve officer.

The new chief's proactive stance may be angering cartels. However, a visit to his evidence room shows the department is also stemming the drug trade. Grant funds and asset forfeiture proceeds are bringing vehicles and new equipment. New training initiatives have been implemented or are planned.

But so far, Kirkham's attempts to gain federal grant funding for a modern police facility to better protect and secure his officers have fallen on deaf ears in D.C. The Nogales PD's station offers limited access control, as police vehicles sit in open lots that lack fencing, surveillance cameras, or keycard entry control.

He has written several letters to Janet Napolitano, President Obama's homeland security secretary and Arizona's former governor.

"I've sent her personal letters," Kirkham tells POLICE Magazine. "To date, I've heard no response. If they (the drug cartels) are going to target officers, we're wide open."

Stay tuned for additional coverage of the Nogales PD and other aspects of American law enforcement's border security war.

Tags: Nogales (Ariz.) PD, Mexican Drug Cartels, Smuggling, U.S.-Mexico Border


Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

OldLt @ 7/22/2010 6:49 PM

There is definitely a reason the brothers and sisters are not receiving the much needed help from the federal government. The Nogales officers are making the current administration look bad; demonstrating, on US soil, the very need for border security that the federal administration is ignoring. They are also residing in a state that the Attorney General and President have targeted as a group of radicals trying to create their own laws. You don't help the "enemy", do you? I wish the brother and sisters in Nogales safety and protection. With the impotence of the federal government's policies, they will need it.

Morning Eagle @ 7/25/2010 1:05 AM

Dear Chief Kirkham, Our illustrious head of Homeland Security has declared the border with Mexico to be secure so there is certainly no need for you to improve or develop anything new for your department that would enable your officers to more efficiently engage in racial discrimination against those poor people who are only looking for a job. The smuggling of tons of drugs and thousands of humans through and around your jurisdiction is only a bothersome side effect and not a reason to "rush to judgment" or some similar remark as some infamous person said fairly recently when speaking of a law enforcement action that had adversely affected a personal acquaintance. Or was that after one his muslim brethren had murdered unarmed soldiers at Ft. Hood? I hope my sarcasm is recognized. Arizona is greatly admired by most of the nation, at least by those who have their heads out in the sunlight and my own state among several others are going to be considering similar legislation because the feds are letting us all swing in the wind while they try to force through an amnesty. You and each member of your department has our particular support because you are definitely on the front line trying to thwart this invasion and as such are in the cross hairs of both the cartels and sadly, our wonderfully unbiased justice department.

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