Arizona Department of Economic Security director Tim Jeffries has boosted security at the agency out of concern about a possible terrorist attack, and has encouraged his nearly 8,000 employees to carry Mace or pepper-spray products on the job for self-defense.
But wait: There's more.
In addition, under a new security plan, about a dozen staffers may be permitted to pack heat at work.
Governor Doug Ducey appointed Jeffries last year to lead the state agency, which manages numerous state and federal social-service programs and has a yearly budget of about $2.5 billion. One of the former businessman's first moves was to fire hundreds of employees he deemed "bullies" and "liars." A devout Catholic like Ducey, Jeffries often strikes a religious tone in describing his motivations.
Jeffries, whose brother was murdered, says he felt anguish and concern after the December attack on a San Bernardino, California, social-services center in which 14 people were killed. He doubled the yearly DES security budget to about $1 million and added security guards at DES lobbies and offices.
Then, after the terrorist attacks two months ago in Brussels, Belgium, Jeffries e-mailed DES's 7,700 employees and informed them they could carry Mace or pepper spray at work, and that he was working on keeping them safe from what he called "merciless evil."
New Times obtained that and several related e-mails from an anonymous source who claims to be a current DES employee. (Side note: Keep those internal e-mails and story tips coming.)
"Effective immediately," the March 22 e-mail reads, "I am authorizing every colleague who feels compelled to carry mace and/or pepper spray to commence doing so on state property IF you are not already doing so. Furthermore, I will ask our DES Security Group to accelerate the review timeframe to further expand the armed protection of our offices. So, stay tuned! Resolute!! Director J."
Mace is a registered trademark, but the word is also commonly used generically to describe self-defense spray products that contain oleoresin capsicum (which is produced from chile peppers), CN tear gas (phenacyl chloride), or both substances.
The e-mail to employees was followed two days later by another e-mail from Charles Loftus, director of DES's security division, explaining what kind of pepper spray might be best to use and the possible drawbacks: "Once the pepper spray concentration approaches 1.0%, the product is designed more an [sic] aggressive animal deterrent (Bear Spray) which may work well on humans but is rather difficult to control the level of contamination.... This may hinder an effective escape by the person deploying the pepper spray."
So far, DES tells New Times, there have been no reported incidents of unintentional releases of Mace or pepper spray around DES offices. Spokeswoman Tasya Petersen says Jeffries didn't really authorize anything new in his e-mail, because Mace and pepper spray aren't on the agency's list of banned weapons.
By contrast, bringing a firearm to work would constitute a serious violation of DES policy.
But in an April 8 e-mail, Loftus put out a call for DES employees who previously worked in law enforcement and want to carry firearms in their workplace.
"Our goal is to provide a small group of highly-trained individuals in our facilities who have the training and expertise in hostile situations," Loftus wrote. "These are the colleagues who possess what is often referred to as the 'Sheepdog DNA.' They are often the co-workers who are willing to put themselves between you and potential harm."
DES would exempt the employees from the anti-gun policy under the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) of 2004. Retired cops and other possible participants would undergo a pre-screening process that includes a mandatory recommendation for the program by their supervisors. Then, as the LEOSA requires, they'll submit to a "psychological review by a private psychology firm who specializes in firearms screening."
As of this week, Peterson says, "around a dozen" employees have said they're interested.
"Some already have LEOSA cards and some are in various stages of obtaining them," she says. "The program is still being explored. No set implementation date has been set."
In an interview last month, Jeffries noted that his personal license plate refers to Psalms 97:10, which he paraphrased as, "Let you who love the Lord hate evil."
"And I do," the director says. "To the best of my ability, in partnership with a great servant leadership team that has always existed at this agency, we are going to do everything in our power to protect our people."
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His security efforts and religious bromides, however, may not be appreciated by all employees. New Times could not verify the identity of the person who sent the e-mails, but the source claims Jeffries's "brand of radical Catholicism" is offensive to "many" DES employees. The source included e-mails Jeffries sent to all employees on Easter weekend with news about the Mass he attended and thanking his "colleagues" for helping him be a "good yet imperfect Christian man."
The source claims Jeffries's desire to arm the staff may be fostering an unsafe workplace.
"I have instructed my wife," the source writes, "if I am pepper-sprayed by some idiot or shot by some cowboy cop, to immediately file a lawsuit against Jeffries and Chuck Loftus."