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

The deputies say Arpaio made it clear the posse program would proceed at full tilt. They say he did throw them a bone, however, promising to work hard to get them a long-awaited raise.

Right after he's reelected, that is.
Arpaio denies the charge, saying he's never used a pay raise as a bargaining chip to get his deputies' support.

Later, during the District 3 meeting, Arpaio asked a retired officer in the front row if he'd concealed a tape recorder. Deputies say the man responded by standing, unzipping his trousers and exposing himself.

The incident produced some nervous laughter, which increased after the retiree delivered the punch line: "It wanted your autograph."

As was the case with the deputies' questions--and is the case with almost any unflattering event--Arpaio doesn't recall being flashed in front of the District 3 deputies. "I don't remember a guy exposing himself, no. If they did, they did. They were having a barbecue and beer, I believe, just prior to that. I don't know if the guy had too many beers, if he did that. But why would a retired deputy be there? I don't know. And if he's retired, maybe that tells you something. If he did that, he should be retired."

About a quarter of the book America's Toughest Sheriff is devoted to Maricopa County's posse, sandwiched between a section on Arpaio's famous tent jail and shoot-'em-up stories from his narc days.

Len Sherman, the co-author, approached his neighbor Joe Arpaio about a book in 1994, shortly after he had moved to Arizona from his native New York. He found Arpaio wary. Not, he says, because the sheriff wasn't ready for national exposure, but because, well, Arpaio doesn't have much use for books.

"Why is anyone going to buy this book?" Sherman says Arpaio asked him. "You go to bookstores and they're filled with books--nobody's buying them."

Sherman finally convinced the sheriff that the book would give him a way to spread his message about fighting crime without having to go through pesky reporters. (The two of them are particularly proud of a chapter that rails against the media, which is ironic, given that local media have been unabashed cheerleaders for Arpaio.)

The toughest task that faced Sherman, and the one at which he was ultimately most successful, was putting the sheriff's ideas into writing while preserving the sheriff's inimitable voice. Occasionally, however, Sherman's own ideas take over.

It was his notion, for example, to begin the posse section with a chapter on search-and-rescue missions. He says he wrote it for the book's national audience, which he guessed would appreciate an introduction to the traditional sense of the posse.

The chapter contains a heartwarming story of a posse man flying his own plane--on his own time and at his own expense--to find two travelers stranded in the desert.

This is not an Arpaio innovation.
A volunteer search-and-rescue force was the role of the posse before Joe Arpaio took office on January 1, 1993. And, unanimously, deputies and other employees who agreed to talk with New Times say that, unlike "Joe's posses," the so-called "mission posses" continue to fulfill their roles admirably. They include the men and women who scour the desert for missing people, the retirees who patrol Sun City, and the divers who can be counted on to plunge into the county's lakes on a moment's notice.

Arpaio changed this traditional posse focus with a massive redirection of agency resources that puts volunteers in actual law enforcement situations and makes them as much like real deputies as possible. The idea stirred the Arizona imagination, and soon volunteers were flooding the department to get into training programs.

So many joined that new posses had to be invented to take them. Maricopa County's posse is actually 53 separate posses of varying size, all under the authority of the sheriff. "Joe's posses" were created to bring in the new kind of volunteer--the gung-ho crime fighter who wants to wear a gun and a badge. They include the "operations" and "community services" posses, two generically named groups that typify the new influx of volunteers. Arpaio aggressively recruited new posse members with billboards and splashy media events, proudly trumpeting how many Valley residents were answering his call.

What he didn't tell the public, deputies say, is how much of a burden the flood of volunteers put on the department.

"The bigger the posse gets, the more resources it requires," says John Thompson, who retired with the rank of major in 1994. "You end up pulling sworn officers away from what they should be doing. Then you're in deep kimchee."

The posse buildup was in full swing when he left, Thompson says, and he could see that it was taking its toll on the sworn personnel.

It gives him a sense of deja vu.
In the mid-'70s, Thompson worked for Paul Blubaum, another sheriff who increased the role of the posse. Blubaum gave posse members rank and allowed them to wear insignia during ride-alongs with deputies. Thompson says that gave the impression that posse members outranked the sworn officers, causing considerable friction. It was one of several factors that sent relations between the sheriff and his deputies south.

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