Joe Agosttini

There are six candidates for sheriff. What makes you stand out from the pack?

“I graduated from Nogales High School, then I went into the service. I was in the Navy for six years: three years active and three years reserve… I had 35 years of experience with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, I was a police officer here in Nogales and I was a detention officer for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office juvenile section,” Agosttini said.

In more than three decades with CBP, he added: “I went up the ranks in the management position all the way up to a deputy port director and assistant port director. I have a lot of experience in dealing with people, budgetary experience. I have a lot of experience dealing with the union and my main goal is to improve the working conditions of the deputies and to provide better security to the county and an overall improved relationship with the county elected officials.”

The sheriff is responsible for the county jail. What will your approach be to running the jail, and what changes to current operations do you plan to make?

Agosttini said he would look into ways to use space that is not being utilized at the facility, including “modify(ing) the infrastructure of the existing building” to accommodate other county departments. He pointed to the Arizona@Work office and the county Animal Care and Control office as departments that might be relocated, saving the county on rent and overhead costs.

What ideas do you have for recruiting and retaining new deputies and corrections staff?

“One of the things that I always admire is the mission of the sheriff’s department,” he said. “When a deputy has a great family life, they will perform twice as much when they come to work. A happy deputy is a deputy that will give you 100 percent performance.”

Agosttini said he wants to look into salary, overtime, scheduling and potential equipment upgrades as ways to keep department employees happy.

Those ideas sound like they would require more spending. Where’s the money going to come from?

Agosttini said he would “take a look at other sources of income,” including federal grants.

One federal grant program, Operation Stonegarden, has been controversial in part because it incurs pension liabilities for local governments. What’s your position on that program?

Agosttini said that, as a CBP officer, he was responsible for the program, which he said previously was called the forfeiture fund. As for the pension liabilities, he said he would see if it was possible to strip the overtime benefits that officers earn from Stonegarden hours.

“What we need to do is to take a look at the protocol that is established by the retirement system in Arizona to see if that portion of the protocol can be waived or if it can be modified,” he said.

Are you a fluent Spanish speaker?

“I am, that is my first language.”

You are running as an Independent. Have you always been an Independent voter?

“I was a Republican before. I made a decision to run as an independent to allow myself a better opportunity to reach out to the voters of Santa Cruz County,” he said.

“The most important thing that I want to make sure that the public knows is that the sheriff’s position is an unbiased position,” he added. “You’re an independent and your focus should be on the mission of the public safety of this county.”

There’s a lot of mistrust of the police right now in the United States, especially when it comes to the policing of minority-majority communities. CBP doesn’t have a community-oriented model of enforcement, so can you tell me about what your approach would be to building trust with this community as sheriff?

“Police work has always been to protect the citizens. Police work has always been public safety, regardless of where you live, regardless of the population, regardless of the gender or where you come from,” he said.

“One of the key words I’d like to enhance and to highlight is integrity… Integrity is not something that you purchase or you receive training. Integrity comes from your family, it’s what your dad, it’s what your mother taught you from the beginning.”

Tell me more specifically, what would be your approach to building trust?

“Receiving the proper training is crucial to all this, but we’re not talking about training that you receive once a year. It should be constant, it should be fluid, it should be all the time. Training on what are some of the things that can get you in trouble,” he said, pointing specifically to the importance of firearms training.

CBP has traditionally not released much information about its activities, what differences do you see between CBP and the county sheriff in terms of providing information to the community about the activities of law enforcement?

Agosttini said that he headed CBP’s office of public affairs for the Arizona Field Office. “I interacted with all the media outlets, radio, TV and newspaper, and some of the things that you always need to consider is to be transparent with the media, but at the same time, you cannot violate the rules and regulations that your agency has in front of you.”

But would you take a different approach as the sheriff than you did in the CBP office of public affairs?

“It has to be different, because as an assistant port director here in Nogales I had oversight of 400 employees, and a tremendous amount of trade that comes to this community and so many passengers and so many vehicles that come through this (area). The approach would be to enhance the relationship with the media outlets, with other law enforcement agencies, with the local groups, with all the elected officials within the county, city and other towns that people tend to forget.”

Sheriff Estrada has long been an outspoken counterbalance to others in law enforcement and political office that portray the border as a dangerous place, and he is often critical of the militarization of the border. Would you take a similar role? 

“I think you need to weigh the opinion and the facts from the federal government with the local community, and then you make a sound decision as to what is the best thing for this community… But what is crucial is protecting our country, protecting our border. You need to make sure that the citizens, the ranchers, the people that live in areas that are isolated are also protected by the federal government.”

Is there anything that we haven’t touched on that you’d like people to know about you and your candidacy?

“We need to find a way to provide services to the little towns that hardly see public safety in the area,” Agosttini said, mentioning Elgin, Sonoita, Tubac, Carmen and Tumacacori as areas that he would focus on.

As for handling the department’s budget, he added, “I’m not going to say that it’s going to be easier, but the budget was in the millions of dollars with CBP.”

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