Gov. Janet Napolitano wants up to 60 DPS officers certified by the federal government to enforce customs laws — a move that would give officers the authority to stop vehicles headed into Mexico and question the occupants.
The proposal unveiled Monday would put Department of Public Safety officers at ports of entry along the state’s southern border. There, the officers would have the power to demand identification of motorists for no reason at all simply because the vehicles are leaving the country.
DPS spokesman Rick Knight said that is far broader than state law where officers need a specific reason or probable cause to stop a vehicle.
Knight said a key goal would be to seize stolen vehicles before they cross the border. But Knight said it also gives DPS officers a chance to check out everyone in the vehicle, helping them to identify and arrest those wanted in this country.
The certification would have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Russ Knocke, spokesman for the agency, said the proposal, made in a letter from Napolitano to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, is being reviewed.
Napolitano said the state had a similar pact a decade ago with the U.S. Department of Justice. That program, Knight said, proved very successful.
"We’ve come across stolen vehicles, wanted people, recovered jet skis, ATVs," he said.
Knight, one of the officers cross-certified at the time, said federal law allows vehicles leaving the country to be stopped.
He said, though, that isn’t always done because of overworked federal officers.
Napolitano’s proposal is the latest in a series of letters between her and Chertoff to find ways for state and federal authorities to work together on border-related problems.