Southern Arizona ranchers who often encounter drug smugglers now have a new way to get help in emergencies: sheriff-issued radios that connect them directly to 911 dispatchers.

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels says it's the first time anywhere in the U.S. that citizens have had radios used by police.

So far 31 ranchers along the Arizona-Mexico border have taken the new handheld radios issued by the county

He said the 2010 killing of rancher Rob Krentz led to increased security and more communication between ranchers and authorities.

The sheriff's office now has a team dedicated to patrolling ranches.

John Ladd, whose family ranch sits along 10 miles of the international border, says the radios will come in handy when he's in remote parts of his ranch where there is a poor cellphone signal.