Mutiny At The County

Sheriff Arpaio's deputies say his vaunted posse does little more than waste money and slake their boss's thirst for publicity

Miller and other present and former officers portray Arpaio as so consumed with the fear of news leaks that he pursues "dime droppers"--law enforcement cant for officers who speak privately with reporters--with a single-minded viciousness. (When a copy of the Sheriff's Office internal video magazine was leaked to the press in 1994, Arpaio reportedly went ballistic. He fired staff videographer Gary Josephson, saying publicly that budget shortfalls were to blame. News reports contend Arpaio got the wrong man--another source had leaked the tape--and Josephson is still fighting to get his job back.)

But as Arpaio scrambles to plug the leaks, an increasing number of deputies are coming forward to speak--albeit anonymously--about the crisis facing the Sheriff's Office. Few are in as good a position as Miller to judge how widely the discontent had spread in the ranks.

"Morale was shitty. It was bad. I was working as watch commander at night. I was out there with the deputies. I was in the jails. I was all over this county. . . . There was just no respect for this man."

Morale has deteriorated so badly that even Arpaio can't ignore it, Miller says. In January, at the same time opinion polls identified Arpaio as the state's most popular elected official, he was so unpopular with his own deputies that he embarked on a four-week, morale-boosting tour in his patrol districts.

At the first stop on his tour--the District 2 substation in Avondale--Arpaio miscalculated badly, giving his deputies essentially the same tough-on-crime stump speech he gives to reporters or Rotary Clubs every day.

"He bangs his chest for 45 minutes and says, 'You owe your jobs to me,'" says one officer. Arpaio's arrogance, he says, made the deputies madder than ever.

Attendance at the meeting was mandatory. "If it wasn't," says another District 2 deputy, "we wouldn't have shown up. Arpaio's lost all respect with us."

News that the meeting had been a tense one, and that several deputies had made their frustrations plain, spread to the other districts. Things were smoother during the next week's meeting--in Mesa's substation--but a deputy there says the district's captain had made it clear that his men weren't to embarrass Arpaio, as the Avondale law officers had.

Arpaio's third stop took him to Sun City and patrol District 3. Concerned about confronting the sheriff directly, District 3 officers anonymously printed up a list of questions for the sheriff. New Times obtained a copy of the list several days before the meeting.

"Why do we have to constantly do their job?" reads one question, referring to the Phoenix Police Department. "Why can't we concentrate on criminal activity in the county? Contrary to what you tell the press, you aren't chasing hookers out of Arizona, only to adjacent streets," a reference to the sheriff's use of the posse to target prostitutes on Van Buren Street in 1994 and 1995.

"Will the $380,000 profit from those awful pink shorts be used to train posse, so the sworn people can have their training budget back?" reads another. Deputies say that the posse's moneymaker--souvenir pink shorts that commemorate Arpaio's gimmick of dyeing inmate underwear pink, ostensibly to keep it from being stolen--is an embarrassment to the department. They're wildly popular with the public, but the deputy who wrote this question exaggerated their profitability (as does Arpaio every chance he gets). It's true that gross sales of the pink underwear have exceeded $400,000, but profits have only reached about $170,000.

Still, that's quite a pile of cash. Arpaio says the Posse Foundation plans to use it to reimburse the posse for such expenses as gasoline used in the mall patrols, but it's only spent $3,000 for that so far. Twice as much was spent on a half-page ad that appeared in the Arizona Republic during Super Bowl week; the ad warned visitors not to commit crimes. It was widely seen as more political ad than crime deterrent.

The sheriff says he doesn't remember being presented with questions at District 3. When a reporter hands him a copy of the list, Arpaio says he's never seen it.

Two District 3 deputies tell New Times that Arpaio did read from the questions, but only the less controversial ones--such as a concern about overweight members of the command staff and the posse hurting the agency's image.

At one point, a deputy stood up and put it directly to the sheriff--what was he going to do about their concerns about the posse? The deputy said that he and his colleagues had no quarrel with the traditional "mission" posses--the search-and-rescue organizations and community watchdog groups which existed before Arpaio took office--but with the "Arpaio posses," which were created recently and have drained the department's precious resources.

The District 3 deputies say Arpaio launched into a long justification of his posses, telling the men and women that they should be proud of them, especially with the posse concept poised to spread all over the globe. Deputies quote Arpaio as saying, "When you use the word 'posse,' automatically you get the headlines. Automatically. It's that magic word, 'posse.'"

During a subsequent interview, Arpaio elaborates on his response: "I did mention that every time we use the posse for a program, the press seems to emphasize the posse." But he denies saying it in the context of justifying the posse's existence. "We were talking about the news media and my response was, unfortunately, every time the posse does something, the press seems to pick up on it. But when a deputy does something, they don't even print it. . . . That was what I was saying. It wasn't that we were using posses to get the press."

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