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Feb 26, 2013 8:00 PM by Danielle Lerner

Border security, school safety top Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels' to-do list

BISBEE- Border security and school safety, two top priorities for newly-elected Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels. Dannels officially took office January 1 and he is already making changes.

"We have 83 sworn deputies covering 6,300 square miles," said Dannels.

Much of that area straddles the international border. Now, the fight to keep illegal immigrants and smugglers out of towns and cities has forced Cochise County's rural residents onto the front lines of the immigration battle.

"They're now being faced with more immigrants than ever before because that's where they placed them, that's where they detoured them, into our county," said Dannels.

Protecting people and securing their property is a huge challenge. That is why Dannels is creating a Border Interdiction Team and Ranch Patrol.

"They know what's going on on their properties but we need to have that voice to them," he said.

Dannels also wants the county's 21 schools to have a voice. The department's new community resource officer is already working with educators to improve communication and uncover any security threats.

"See what the risks are that each school has, provide them with a report and say okay, this is what we see as a risk and work with them in fixing that," Dannels said.

Those risk assessments were planned before the mass shooting in Newtown, but Dannels says the tragedy stresses the importance of being proactive.

"Bringing the mindset forward of hey, this could happen in your school," said Dannels.

At this point all options are on the table. If needed, we could see deputies or an unarmed sheriff's assist team on campus.

"Schools aren't built to be jails and detention facilities, they're for kids to go and have fun and socialize and learn," Dannels said. "So it's a tough concept, it really is."

Still, as Dannels settles into the newest chapter of his decades long career, he thinks of the man who held the job for 16 years before him. Good friend and close colleague Larry Dever, who was killed in a car accident last September.

"Many people have asked me that, his shoes are pretty big how you going to, you know, wear his shoes," said Dannels. "I say I can't. He earned his shoes, I have to earn mine."

Dannels says the county's jails are also in desperate need of funding and staff. He's currently working with the county manager and board of supervisors on that issue.

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