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 latest in a long line of colorful and dubious Maricopa County sheriffs, Arpaio was the seventh that Thompson worked for. None, he says, has had such a negative impact on the agency's professionalism.

Nor has any sheriff allocated so many resources and trained so many volunteers with such abandon.

Under Tom Agnos, the previous sheriff, 5 percent of the training division's efforts benefited the posse. Detention officers received the majority of training in 1991 and 1992, with about a 70 percent share; enforcement personnel--deputies--took a 24 percent slice of the training pie.

In 1993, Arpaio's first year as sheriff, those numbers changed very little.
The shift of training hours to the posse in 1994, however, is remarkable.
Total training hours increased from 356,486 to 609,561 in 1994, and the posse's share exploded from 5 percent to 71 percent. Meanwhile, training for enforcement, jail detention and civilian employees decreased dramatically, both in total hours and as percentages. Detention officers, for example, saw their share go from 68 percent to only 23 percent. Enforcement employees, meanwhile, saw their total hours go from 91,254 in 1993 to 37,048 in 1994.

While posse training increased, the training division budget didn't. So advanced programs for enforcement officers--such as classes at the prestigious Bondurant driving school--were cut.

In 1995, training for the posse continued to explode, trebling to a total of more than 1.3 million hours, or almost six times more than all personnel--sworn, civilian, volunteer--received in 1992. Civilian training--classes for clerks and secretaries who must keep on top of a mountain of paper and changing technology--has vanished entirely. Training for detention officers continued to slide, but, in a reversal of the trend--and perhaps because of deputies' complaints--enforcement employees enjoyed a sharp increase in training last year, to 200,408 hours.

Still, deputies say, they continue to feel the effects of the posse's virtual takeover of the training division: During 1995, eight out of every ten training hours at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office were expended on posse members.

It's another morning at the Durango Complex in the same room where Sergeant Rich Rosky had handed out drug-busting assignments a few weeks earlier. This time 45 posse hopefuls await the start of a CPR class. They seem to fall into two distinct groups: White men in their 20s and white men in their 50s.

"Morning!" exclaims Gary Niki, instructor and posse member.
"Good morning!" the troops bellow back, and it feels like summer camp. Niki talks and gestures to the class like it's filled with third graders.

"How many people have seen a heart attack, seen someone go down?" he asks. Ten people raise their hands.

"How many have been to a real bad accident?"
About 20 respond.
"Good! I'm glad to see that!" Niki exclaims with Richard Simmonslike enthusiasm. He's nearly as patronizing as well, and the class proceeds at a glacial rate. The subject is interesting, but it's hard to gain confidence in an instructor who butchers the word "arteriosclerosis" four times in as many sentences.

Niki's trying to generate interest in saving lives with humor. Most of it's insensitive--he's making cracks about fat people when most of his audience carries hefty spare tires and Niki's no rail himself. He gets off a zinger about answering calls in "Seizure World" and laughs heartily at his own joke.

"Why do we call it Seizure World? Because there are a lot of seizures out there," he explains.

Niki turns to the differences in heart-attack risks for men and women, and he asks if anyone can tell him how sex-change operations change those risk factors. Remarkably, no one can.

To get to this point in their crime-fighting education, the posse members in Niki's class must first submit applications and go through background checks. Sheriff Arpaio has insisted that those checks are as thorough as any deputies face.

Deputies disagree. With the sudden influx of so many volunteers, they say, standards were relaxed to handle the overflow. "The posse applicants have some backgrounds--Jesus Christ, you couldn't believe they were letting these people in," retired major John Thompson says.

Those charges are reflected in a memo produced by a former posse supervisor. Lieutenant Roy Reyer's five-page memo, written in 1994, charged that application standards were dangerously lax, and he cited numerous examples of embarrassing posse fiascos:

"In one instance," Reyer wrote, "a new posse man was given the assignment of treasurer of the Operations Posse. Over five thousand dollars of this posse's fund were in his control. A background check of this individual later showed that he had an outstanding out-of-state warrant for fraud."

The posse man was asked to turn in his badge.
Other posse members, Reyer charged, showed up to class drunk or carrying concealed weapons. Some slept in class.

And there's the posse member "who was late for boarding a commercial aircraft, flashed his badge and was permitted to board after identifying himself as a deputy sheriff on official business." The Sheriff's Office claims that the posse man had accidentally laid his wallet on a ticket counter with his badge showing. The agency insists that it works aggressively to oust undesirables, and says the number of bad apples is remarkably low for an organization its size.

But the posse continues to have problems with some of its members. Notable ex-posse members include:

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