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

Public records say otherwise. The county does expend funds to train posse members and to deploy them. Quite a lot of money, actually.

The explosion in posse training in 1994 was accompanied by a huge jump in ammunition purchases. And unless the sworn deputies suddenly found themselves in the mother of all gun battles, that increase came because of the truly incredible amount of lead fired by posse members in training.

About three in ten posse volunteers go on to complete weapons training, enabling them to carry firearms during posse operations. To attain that status--called QAP for qualified armed posse man--volunteers must complete 70 hours of training at the county firing range. Bullets are provided by the taxpayers of Maricopa County.

Under the previous administration, the Sheriff's Office purchased $32,000 in ammunition in 1991 and $41,000 in 1992.

Under Arpaio, ammunition purchases have averaged $160,000 per year. During his three years as sheriff, Arpaio has expended $359,000 more than if he'd maintained ammunition purchases at the 1992 level.

In his book, Arpaio says county residents shouldn't begrudge posse members the few bullets they receive as a kind of graduation present for completing QAP training.

But that coy statement can't obscure that the sheriff is fully aware how much money goes to posse firearms training.

"I save millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars on this county budget, and no one ever talks about it," Arpaio told the committee drawing up the county's new charter in February. "If you want a list of the millions that I saved as sheriff, I'll be glad to give it to you."

Arpaio claims that the posse saved the county $10 million in 1995.
A deputy who has worked closely with the posse says those numbers are bogus. He says he knows because he's helped fudge them in the past.

"Those are phantom figures," he says. "We calculated them from what it would cost to pay for the cars and horses the posse members provided on their own. We wouldn't have bought that shit anyway."

The Sheriff's Office insists that it calculates the money saved by the posse in the man-hours donated by volunteers. In other words, the sheriff asks the public to believe that the county would otherwise pay $10 million yearly for the services of faux deputies with no real law enforcement powers. (Arpaio applies similarly twisted justification for his claim, made on Tom Snyder's national Late Late Show, that he's saved Maricopa County taxpayers $100 million. When New Times asked Arpaio to document the savings, he explained that a new jail would cost $100 million, and that because he hasn't demanded a new jail, he has saved $100 million.)

On their own, posse men and women have no more ability to do police work than any other citizen. It's only when they're in the presence of sworn officers that posse members attain a sort of quasi-deputyhood, and can assist in detaining suspects, transporting prisoners and taking fingerprints. In the major "Joe shows," then, there are often as many sworn personnel present as volunteers, and the cost of Arpaio's "free" posse shoots upward.

During Operation Rolling Thunder, the recently completed posse drug program, sworn man-hours outnumbered volunteer hours 8,840 to 5,356. But when Arpaio brags about the success of the operation--346 arrests and seizures of two kilos of methamphetamine, one of cocaine, and 388 marijuana plants--it's not the sworn officers who get the credit. Valley media cooperate willingly, giving the public the impression that the arrests and seizures would never happen without Arpaio's volunteers.

In fact, Arpaio deploys his paid employees so as to exaggerate the effectiveness of the posse.

Spokesmen for the sheriff deny the charge. They do acknowledge, however, that paid personnel outnumbered volunteers in the "posse" operation. And that's something Arpaio knows is the biggest problem with his grand plan for the posse.

Although he continues to claim that the posse is cost-free, in his book he calls for using pink-underwear money to pay off-duty officers to do what they do now: baby-sit posse members on county time.

Much of it is overtime.
A memo obtained by New Times shows that deputies in the patrol districts were asked to sign up for shifts during Operation Rolling Thunder, but only on their regularly scheduled days off. In other words, deputies were called in from the county's unincorporated areas to provide law enforcement for the City of Phoenix, and were paid overtime by the county to do so.

At time and a half, the 8,840 hours expended in Operation Rolling Thunder would have cost county taxpayers approximately $200,000.

Chief David Hendershott oversees Sheriff Arpaio's posse program, and he still insists it doesn't cost a dime. "I think that's a matter of semantics," he says. "The posse is free."

That's not what posse members themselves are told, however. Potential QAP trainees are told they'd better be serious about becoming arms-qualified because it costs the county so much to train them.

Posse man Donald Sroufe says a deputy made that clear to him when he decided to qualify with a weapon.

"He told me it cost so much to train posse men to go through QAP training that they want to make sure we were going to stick with it. I told him I would," says Sroufe, a bartender and college student.

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