The border crisis is a challenge to local law enforcement in most states, Sheriff Matt Gentry of Cullman County, Alabama, told senators Wednesday on Capitol Hill. 

Gentry and other Alabama law enforcement officials visited the Texas-Mexico border last year, where he recalls “seeing how a president and a liberal media are lying about what we are facing.”

Most of the illegal aliens pouring over the border weren’t women and children, the sheriff said, but men ages 18 to 25 from Somalia, China, and Haiti. 

“Guess what? That is moving to our state. And you think, well, how does it affect local law enforcement?” Gentry asked rhetorically at the Police Week event sponsored by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. 

“We’re going to deal with it first. We’re going to deal with the drugs coming across the border,” Gentry said, answering his own question. “We’re going to deal with the violence that they’re inflicting upon people in their homes. So, it’s really a unique time for law enforcement, especially local law enforcement, because we have open borders and we have a president that does not care about our country.”

Current and former law enforcement officials spoke at the Capitol Hill forum, as did Tuberville and several other Republican senators, many criticizing President Joe Biden’s border policies. 

“The opioid crisis continues to devastate U.S. communities, fueled by fentanyl smuggled into the country, which is killing our kids and making cartels filthy rich,” Tuberville said. “What people don’t realize is that it isn’t just our federal officers along the border who are managing the fallout of the president’s failed policies. Our state and local police in every community across the country are dealing with drug and human trafficking.”

Tuberville said several police chiefs had told him that they never had heard of fentanyl until just a few years ago, and now it’s the most dangerous drug in Alabama.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said the solutions in fighting fentanyl are simple, but difficult to implement in the current political environment. He said Florida sheriffs are dealing with the problem.

“The first thing we ought to do is secure the border. That’s simple,” Scott said. “The next thing we do is stop buying anything from China. … We need to pass logical legislation that would say our Border Patrol is going to update their interdiction guidelines, which is going to help them.”

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, acting as moderator for the event, said that today “every state is a border state.” 

Activists advocating “defunding” the police, as well as “woke prosecutors” who are soft on criminals, continue to make it more difficult for law enforcement to do its job, the former Republican attorney general said.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said she spoke with local sheriffs and police departments in her state, as well as the Tennessee Highway Patrol, and heard similar concerns about recruitment and retention. And these challenges come as the homicide rate in Memphis skyrocketed by 50% from 2022 to 2023, she said.

“One of the things they brought up to me was their concern was how to recruit and retain law enforcement officers and the impact that is having,” Blackburn said. “Resignations [by police officers] are up across the country as much as 47% since 2019. We need to make certain that the focus is on funding not defunding the law enforcement community, to be sure their work environment is as safe as it can possibly be.” 

Mental health is also key to supporting law enforcement officers and addressing issues in the communities they police, said Nick Derzis, police chief in Hoover, Alabama. 

“In the past, police officers’ wellness was determined by the physical fitness, but now our profession recognizes the important role that mental wellness plays in someone’s overall health,” Derzis said.

Two years ago, the chief added, his department hired a mental health coordinator to provide on-site counseling services for officers and work with citizens on related issues. 

“This position has already proved crucial to our department,” Derzis said, summarizing the benefit as “having a staff person who can facilitate communication between family, hospitals, probate court and use this knowledge to determine the next course of action.”

Police also respond to military veterans in crisis, he said. 

“We also have a veterans liaison volunteer group that currently has 10 police officers who are former service members,” Derzis said. 

In 1900, Tuberville said, the United States had a population of fewer than 100 million but 500,000 were being treated for mental illness. Today, he said, the population is over 300 million but only about 30,000 are being treated for it. 

“What the heck is going on?” the senator asked. “We’ve tripled, almost, our number of people, but we have less people that are being treated for mental illness. And we all know it is a bad, bad problem.”