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

In return for the resources expended on his behalf, Sroufe says the Sheriff's Office asked him to donate eight hours each month to posse activities.

He says he would like to have followed through on that commitment. If only he didn't have such a full work schedule behind the bar, and so much schoolwork as well.

In the eight months since his graduation, Sroufe had donated only 20 hours to the posse, with about eight hours going to activities directly related to law enforcement.

According to a deputy who was heavily involved in posse deployment, that's a high rate of return. The deputy says that officers who work with the posse expect the bulk of posse members to disappear without a trace after they earn their badges.

A dedicated posse man who logs more than 1,000 hours each year thinks the situation is actually bleaker. He wouldn't allow his name to be used because there's no appeal mechanism for the posse--if he's kicked out for talking to New Times, he'll have no recourse. He even asked that the name of his posse be kept out.

He says that the number of truly dedicated posse members is embarrassingly small. Maybe 50 hard-core souls keep the "Joe shows" going, he says. And getting the large numbers out, especially when Arpaio wants them for the cameras, well, that's gotten increasingly difficult.

"I couldn't figure it out," he says. "We tried everything. We tried hammering them, telling them, 'If you don't come out, you'll lose your badge.'" He says many of the people who enter the posse full of enthusiasm burn out quickly as the monotony of police work becomes evident.

"Some get disenchanted when they realize it's not all red lights and sirens," he says.

It's not news to him that the sworn deputies are unhappy with the posse. "You have to prove yourself to the deputies. I can't blame them for how they feel. I blame the posse," the posse man says.

After thousands of volunteer hours, he says he's earned the respect of several deputies who are glad to let him ride as a second man.

A deputy from one of the patrol districts says that posse ride-alongs are mostly unwelcome among his colleagues. As for himself, he refuses to let a posse member ride shotgun.

"In a serious call, we have to concentrate on this asshole sitting next to us with a gun," he says. "You have to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn't shoot you in the back or trip and kill himself."

The dedicated posse man says he understands the deputy's frustration. "One of the biggest problems with the guys in charge of us is that they're very good people, but they don't have the skills to run a large volunteer organization," he says.

That's just what Arpaio has tried to turn the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office into.

Posse men Kent Keller and Jeff Grossman patrol 27th Avenue, inside Phoenix, waiting to hear of a drug bust going down. Operation Rolling Thunder is in its second week, and Keller and Grossman have been selected to roam freely, ready to back up sworn deputies making arrests.

Keller, a retired Phoenix police officer, says he and Grossman often ride together, and they've been targeting the prostitution on 27th Avenue. Keller says they've heard stories of a "watch house" in the neighborhood; the prostitutes tell them it's an underground place where people pay to watch couples have sex.

"It'll be fun to find that one day," Keller says.
Saturday morning seems to be a slow time for hookers. The only prostitute on the street is talking to some abortion protesters outside a clinic.

Keller's Bronco is a posse member's dream. It's equipped with two police radios, grill-mounted red and blue lights, and Sheriff's Office decals. The mounted police radios aren't working properly, so Keller fiddles with them and then gives up. Luckily, he and Grossman have hand-helds and they stay in radio contact with headquarters.

But there's nothing happening. It's been two hours since they got their assignments, and Keller and Grossman haven't heard a peep out of the sworn deputies who are supposed to be sweeping down on crack houses.

Keller decides to stop and do some surveillance on two drunks sitting on the sidewalk outside a 7-Eleven. Keller says he's pretty sure the younger one is dealing crack, and he's been videotaping the suspect, hoping to catch him doing it. Today Keller and Grossman are just going to sit and see what they can see.

Keller parks his Bronco at a curb about 50 yards away in a no-parking zone, in full view of the quarry, who appear to be Native Americans. But the suspects look totally blitzed, and don't notice that they're being watched. They seem to be hitting up passers-by for smokes and striking out.

As Keller and Grossman settle in for the stakeout, a motorcycle missing its license plate pulls up next to the Bronco and stops for a red light.

"What's this?" Keller says as he starts the Bronco. He waits for the motorcyclist, a young black man, to make a left onto 27th Avenue, then guns the Bronco in hot pursuit.

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