NOGALES, Ariz. (KGUN) — He has been the longest serving Sheriff in Arizona history, now Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada is taking off his badge at the end of the year. Sheriff Estrada looked back with KGUN9 On Your Side’s Craig Smith.
Tony Estrada was 22 years old when he decided a job in law enforcement seemed like a pretty good opportunity; it became his life for more than 50 years.
“I weighed about 130 pounds at that time and I said I'm going to be killed in a month; you know, things were rough then.”
That was 1966. Sheriff Estrada worked his way up the ranks of Nogales Police from patrol, to dispatch, finally to Captain, second in command of the Department, and sometimes the interim chief.
After 25 years with Nogales Police he ran for Santa Cruz County Sheriff, won and began 27 years of service there.
He says, “Coming from where I came from, and having accomplished what I have. It is like a dream. It's like a dream and I think that there would probably a purpose in my life, being the only Hispanic sheriff in the whole state of Arizona and the longest-serving sheriff in the whole state of Arizona, that I would have my voice, and that I would use that voice to the people that really needed some type of representation.”
Sheriff Estrada was born in Mexico. He says he was a year and a half old when his family began building a life in Nogales Arizona.
“My mother had that vision that she wanted us to immigrate over here, and she managed to do it through my father having a job and merely getting a letter of employment, and that's all it took relatively easy. She paid a quota or, or a fee in order to do it so my mother and four of us immigrated.”
Estrada has used that experience to focus his call for more humane treatment of border crossers and an understanding that border towns like Nogales are peaceful places, not war zones as they may be described by those who don’t truly know them.
But now after 53 years of looking after his community, Sheriff Tony Estrada is preparing to take off his badge.
He says, “The people that I work with, the community that I get involved in, It's going to be difficult when I wake up, January 1, knowing that hey, it's not your responsibility anymore you're not responsible for this.”
But Tony Estrada says after a short vacation, he’ll find other ways to serve the community he’s protected for more than 50 years.