DPS: Department of Political Safety
It was quite a going-away party for one of the state's top cops.
Nearly 300 people, including scores of the state's leading police officials, packed into the Fraternal Order of Police lodge on January 25 to acknowledge the outstanding career of Rodney Covey, an Arizona Department of Public Safety lieutenant colonel.
Covey had done it all during his 21 years with DPS. He'd started as a patrolman and worked his way up to the title of assistant director, a job that put him in charge of the Highway Patrol and criminal investigations bureaus. He's respected and well-liked by his peers.
His associates say he wasn't ready to retire, but politics had shoved Covey out the door before his time. He's only 42.
Conspicuously absent from the fete was DPS director Joe Albo. Also missing was the man who succeeded Covey as DPS' assistant director, Lieutenant Colonel Charles E. Warner.
Their breach of protocol did not go unnoticed.
It was a stark reminder of the turmoil that has engulfed the state's most important police agency.
Cops rarely air their problems in public, particularly to the press. But in the past month, Department of Public Safety officers ranging from patrolmen to top managers have decided to air their grievances.
They describe an agency simmering over a bitter power struggle.
The root of the problem, they say, is simple. Governor J. Fife Symington III is wielding enormous influence over operations of the agency, which is charged with enforcing the state's liquor and narcotics laws and conducting organized-crime investigations.
"Why is he trying to impose his people on DPS?" one veteran officer asks.
It's a question DPS officers often ask themselves.
Symington's January 1995 appointment of gubernatorial aide Albo, a former Gila County prosecutor with no police experience, created a wave of anxiety that has yet to subside.
But DPS officers' concern over Albo's appointment pales in comparison with their view of the remarkable advancement of Charles Warner, who is now Albo's top assistant.
In late 1990, Warner was a 12-year veteran who held the rank of sergeant. Though he showed signs of leadership potential, there was nothing remarkable about his career.
But then Warner became chief of Governor Symington's security detail.
Over the next four years, Warner and Symington developed a deep friendship. In January 1995, after DPS director Rick Ayars retired, Symington finally got his chance to appoint a DPS chief. Symington chose Albo and instructed him to take care of Warner.
And Albo did. In less than two years, Warner, 40, has risen through the ranks faster than anyone at DPS can remember.
Warner's ascent has left a bitter taste.
"Charlie Warner goes from carrying the governor's luggage to managing more than 1,000 people, and he has no idea what he's doing," says a high-ranking officer who asked not to be identified. "You don't get experience protecting a governor. What you do get is the governor's philosophy of how he wants that organization run."
DPS insiders point to tangible changes in DPS operations that raise questions about Albo's and Warner's leadership abilities and willingness to deflect gubernatorial politics.
But there are concerns that transcend politics, DPS officers say, including:
* Frequent and free use of DPS aircraft by Symington for personal and political use.
* A sudden decrease in funding for undercover narcotics operations and
a general lack of funds for criminal investigations.
* Tepid discipline of wayward officers.
Fear of reprisal for speaking openly about problems inside the department is widespread.
At Rodney Covey's retirement bash, one officer made light of the paranoia. He placed a paper bag over his head, explaining that he didn't want Albo and Warner to find out he'd attended.
For more than a decade, Department of Public Safety officer Charles E. Warner was just another cop on the beat.
His career got off to a slow start. He resigned from DPS in 1978 after less than a year on the job. He returned to the force in late 1979 and slowly wound his way through the ranks of the Highway Patrol and criminal investigation bureaus. By 1987, he was a sergeant, and appeared to be locked into a normal career path. He became a lieutenant in November 1990, after being named chief of the executive security detail and being assigned to guard then-candidate J. Fife Symington III.
Symington was elected governor of Arizona in early 1991. He wasn't the first governor Warner had personally known, but his relationship with Symington proved to be the most beneficial.
For the next four years, Warner practically lived, ate and slept with Symington.
From his perch, Warner knew who the governor met with, and when and where they met. He traveled extensively with the governor and approved the use of DPS' turbojet aircraft for Symington's state business and personal vacations. Warner says he became one of the governor's confidants.
Friendship has its benefits, especially in the Symington administration. The governor's loyal allies--even incompetent ones such as George Leckie and Annette Alvarez--are rewarded with powerful and lucrative positions.
Despite his limited experience, Warner's ties to Symington propelled him up the DPS flow chart at a dizzying pace. He rose from a newly promoted lieutenant in November 1990 to lieutenant colonel in December 1996.
DPS chief Joe Albo says that by promoting Warner to major in February 1995 and lieutenant colonel in December 1996 (Warner leapfrogged completely over the rank of captain), he was merely following Symington's directions.
"The governor told me, he said, 'I think a lot of Charlie and if things work out, do you think you can find a place for him in your administration?'" Albo says, recalling a conversation with Symington prior to Albo's January 1995 appointment. "I said, 'Certainly, I would keep that in mind.'"
Albo says he understood that the governor wanted Warner to "be intricately involved in what I was doing over here at DPS in terms of running the department. I think that is what he meant and that's the way I took it."
When Albo named Warner a lieutenant colonel in December, he also made him assistant DPS director in charge of the Highway Patrol and criminal investigations bureaus. The job pays $88,800 a year.
During his climb to assistant director, Warner passed by far more experienced and, at least on paper, vastly more qualified officers. Besides lieutenant colonel Covey, Warner also jumped over:
* Major Norman Beasley, a 27-year veteran who has served as chief of staff of three bureaus--Highway Patrol, criminal justice support, criminal investigations--and is an expert in security and explosives.
* Major William Reutter, a 28-year veteran who won high marks for actions during the tumultuous copper-mine strikes in Morenci during the mid-'80s.
* Major Deston Coleman, a 29-year decorated veteran, who last served as bureau chief for criminal justice support.
Beasley, Reutter and Coleman all have been shifted by Albo to positions of less authority.
Not surprisingly, Warner's rise to power has left many DPS veterans wondering why.
"I think you could put me in the ranks of people who raise their eyebrows and say they don't quite understand it," says former DPS director Rick Ayars, who retired in 1994 after disputes with Symington.
Some high-ranking DPS officers believe Warner is being groomed to take over the agency, a prospect that disgusts some elements in the rank and file who believe Symington is politicizing the 1,600-person department.
"I've never seen a governor come in and absolutely take over the whole structure of DPS before," says one DPS veteran who requested anonymity.
But J. Fife Symington III isn't just any governor.
He faces a 23-count federal criminal trial in May on bank fraud, perjury and extortion charges. And now, Warner--who watched many of Symington's private and public movements during the years in which some of the alleged crimes occurred--is directing daily operations at the state's most powerful police agency, including its organized-crime unit.
While suggestions swirl that Warner's rise to power is somehow linked to sensitive information he has about Symington's activities, most DPS officers interviewed by New Times say Warner's success seems based more on friendship than quid pro quo.
"I don't sense that Charlie has anything on the governor that would require the governor to provide some kind of payment," Ayars says.
But in an organization with a military command structure, the idea that friendship could supplant performance and longevity in determining DPS leadership is disturbing enough.
DPS sergeant Tom Powers, president of the Associated Highway Patrolmen of Arizona, says many officers worry that Warner's ascension is a sign that DPS is becoming a political arm of the Governor's Office.
"There is that feeling in the agency, absolutely," Powers says. "I don't think anybody would deny that."
Remarkably, DPS director Albo says he wasn't aware of any uproar in the department over Warner's quick rise. Albo, a Democrat and a former Gila County attorney who met Symington through church activities, claims many in DPS approve of his selection of Warner.
"People have said to me, 'We are glad for the change in direction,'" Albo says.
Warner acknowledges his rise has been meteoric, but attributes his success not to his association with Symington but his friendship with Albo. Albo, who served as a gubernatorial assistant, worked alongside Warner in the year preceding Albo's appointment as DPS director.
Warner says he's aware of the dissension in the department, but he says it is fueled by personality conflicts and jealousy among older, more experienced officers who are angry they have been passed over.
"Our director feels that this is a young man's game," Warner says.
"I believe the same thing. I think, after 25 years you are probably not as aggressive, proactive, motivated as some of the . . . younger commanders. I believe that is one of this director's intents is to get some new blood here, to get some new proactive thinking, creative thinking."
Albo himself is hardly immune from sniping. He had no law enforcement experience when Symington appointed him DPS director on January 1, 1995, to replace Ayars.
Albo secured the $102,000-a-year post despite a constitutional requirement that the DPS director have five years' experience leading a law enforcement agency. Critics doubt that the framers of the state Constitution had county attorneys in mind when they required "law enforcement" experience for the job.
Albo is attempting to gain police officer certification, a move he says should boost DPS officers' confidence in him.
A Globe native of Hispanic and Yaqui ancestry, Albo, 49, is the department's first minority chief.
Before he became DPS director, Albo spent one year as the governor's executive assistant for public safety, rural affairs and minority relations. In that position, he laid the groundwork for Symington's controversial juvenile justice reform initiative, which was approved by voters last November.
Albo graduated from Northern Arizona University in 1969 and received a law degree at the University of Arizona in 1976. He was elected Gila County attorney in 1984, and was reelected in 1988 and 1992.
Albo admits that you "won't find a lot" in Warner's personnel file that would indicate outstanding leadership abilities. But, Albo says, Warner's handling of the governor's security detail gave him confidence that he was the right man to head DPS field operations.
"Everything that he has done while I have been here and since he went to the criminal investigations bureau has been along the lines I would like to develop the agency and some changes we would like to make here," Albo says.
But other DPS officers are less charitable.
"For anybody to think that he [Warner] got there for his abilities is stupid," says one high-ranking officer.
One of the important tasks for the commander of the executive security detail is to schedule the flights by the governor on DPS' King Air turbojet.
A state plane has been available to governors for official business since at least the late 1970s. It is an invaluable tool, allowing the governor to attend to state business in outlying areas quickly. It was frequently used by former governors Bruce Babbitt, Evan Mecham and Rose Mofford.
DPS is required by state law to "provide transportation, security and protection" for the governor and his family. But the law also states that the extent of that protection and the degree to which state resources are utilized will be determined by what the DPS director and the governor "deem appropriate and adequate."
Symington has opted for heavy protection and expensive transportation, and DPS has gone along.
Symington has expanded the use of the state plane to include numerous vacations and political events that are paid for or subsidized by taxpayers. The shift in usage from strictly state business to personal use occurred during Charles Warner's tenure as Symington's security chief. The policy has continued under the new security chief, Chuck Wright (who receives a lieutenant's pay although he has a rank of sergeant).
"Our job is to get him from point A to point B as safely and expeditiously as possible," Warner explains. "If we feel the state plane is the best way to do that, then we are going to do it. Then we don't have to worry about the problems of an airport--delays at the airport, sitting in the airport with his family. High exposure, high visibility, those type of things."
Symington promised early in his first term that he would reimburse the state for personal use of the aircraft; he paid $621 for three trips. But DPS told the governor he needn't reimburse the state because no other governor had.
"Past governors, including Mofford, Mecham and Babbitt, have received like treatment for use of the aircraft," DPS director Albo explains.
But past governors never exploited the aircraft the way Symington has.
"I used it for official business only," says Mofford, who adds she never took a vacation during her three years as governor.
Mofford notes that the use of the plane was carefully scrutinized by the press and Legislature during her tenure, which ran from 1988-91. She says she was lambasted by the press for supposedly taking a shopping trip to San Diego when, in fact, Mofford claims she was trying to recruit a large department store to locate in Arizona.
"I never misused the state plane or abused it in any way, because I didn't think it would be fair to taxpayers," Mofford says.
Mecham says he never used the plane for personal matters or vacation. "I know what's right from wrong on something like that," Mecham says.
George Britton, a former member of Babbitt's staff who kept track of the plane use, says Babbitt didn't use the plane for vacation purposes. Babbitt, however, did utilize it for campaign trips but would reimburse the state.
"If there was personal use for his benefit, then he had to pay for it out of his own pocket," Britton says.
Symington not only uses the plane to further his own political and personal interests, he uses it to boost the fortunes of his fellow Republicans.
During the final days of last fall's presidential campaign, Symington and his political ally Senator John McCain launched a statewide blitzkrieg in an attempt to prop up Bob Dole's flagging campaign and rehabilitate Symington's tarnished image.
The tour began October 28 and included stops in Nogales, Fort Huachuca, Tucson and Flagstaff. The campaigning continued the next day with rallies in Show Low, St. Johns, Grand Canyon, Page, Kingman and Bullhead City. The road show concluded on October 30 with stops in Lake Havasu, Yuma and Prescott.
The breakneck campaign tour at times included U.S. representatives John Shadegg and Jim Kolbe, along with congressional candidate Jim Buster. The schedule could only have been managed with a plane.
But Symington's entourage didn't rent a private plane for its purely political endeavors. Instead, Symington simply summoned the $1.7 million DPS aircraft that is at his disposal.
DPS records show the cost of operating the taxpayer-supported aircraft during the three-day campaign swing came to $5,406, not including salaries of the DPS security officers escorting the governor.
DPS billed the Dole/Kemp campaign for the aircraft services on November 11. The campaign paid the bill on January 30.
Although the DPS bill was paid, Symington and his allies gain substantial benefit from using the state plane. DPS charges $520 an hour for use of the King Air 200 turboprop jet, about half of what a private charter service charges, says Gary McCray of Corporate Jets in Scottsdale.
So the campaign junket was subsidized by taxpayers.
The governor not only uses the plane for political purposes (such as flying to the Republican National Convention in San Diego last summer at taxpayer expense), he also relies heavily on the aircraft to ferry himself, family, friends and unindicted co-conspirators to vacation hideaways, DPS plane records show.
The cost of shuttling the governor on political and pleasure trips adds up quickly, because the DPS plane typically returns to Phoenix after dropping Symington off at an overnight destination.
The cost to ferry the governor and his wife and son to the Republican National Convention in San Diego, for example, was more than $2,400, because the aircraft made two round trips between Arizona and San Diego.
Symington's use of the state plane has become so casual that DPS sometimes flies the governor's friends and associates on the plane--even when the governor isn't aboard. State law prohibits such use of the aircraft, DPS director Albo says.
Representative Shadegg, for example, was flown on two solo flights during the Dole/Kemp campaign swing in violation of state law.
"That sort of use is not allowed . . . and will not be repeated," Albo says.
But Shadegg, who says the Dole/Kemp campaign assured him the use of the aircraft was proper, isn't the only one who got special treatment. DPS records show the aircraft ferried two groups of state employees and personal friends and relatives of the governor's from Page to Phoenix last September at a cost of more than $1,600. Once again, the governor was not aboard the plane.
DPS records show Symington took other vacations with family members to Santa Barbara, California, and Guaymas, Mexico. There were frequent trips to Lake Powell.
On September 14, 1995, the governor and his wife were joined by several friends on a $468, one-way plane trip to Lake Powell, where Symington celebrated his 50th birthday on a houseboat.
Aboard the aircraft with the Symingtons were Betsy and Terry Considine and Symington's former secretary, Joyce Reibel. Less than six months later, Terry Considine became a co-trustee of the governor's legal defense fund, which has reported raising $112,121 in the past year.
Reibel's presence on the state aircraft is even more significant. By September 1995, the governor knew that Reibel had testified before a federal grand jury investigating Symington. In fact, Symington knew the federal government believed that Reibel helped Symington submit false financial statements to lenders.
In many ways, Symington's legal future is in Joyce Reibel's hands.
"The fundamental allegation is that Fife Symington, with the assistance of Joyce Reibel, manipulated the information disclosed in his personal financial statements and then carefully tracked their distribution to various financial institutions," the governor's defense attorney, John Dowd, wrote in a March 1994 letter to federal prosecutors.
The Symingtons are so concerned about Reibel's welfare that Ann Symington has been directly billed for Reibel's legal expenses, a generosity the Symingtons haven't displayed for two other close associates with even more pressing legal troubles. Former aide George Leckie and the governor's longtime accountant John Yeoman were indicted by a federal grand jury for rigging a $1.5 million state contract. (Yeoman died in a car wreck shortly after he was indicted.)
Meanwhile, taxpayers were directly billed for Reibel's transportation to Symington's Lake Powell birthday bash, thanks to DPS.
Albo says he would be happy if the Legislature would clarify or tighten the law concerning DPS security protection and transportation for the governor. But until changes are made, DPS will go along with Symington's requests.
"These are difficult issues we try not to get involved in," Albo says.
Governor J. Fife Symington III regularly trumpets his tough stand against crime. DPS insiders wonder how sincere the governor can be when the state's elite police force goes wanting for adequate manpower, equipment, funding and management.
DPS has statewide responsibility for enforcing Arizona's narcotics laws. But narcotics officers and other DPS officials say funding problems have brought the state's war on drugs to a virtual standstill.
DPS undercover narcotics agents typically make contacts with drug suppliers, then purchase narcotics. These transactions are documented and police bust the dealers. Large amounts of cash are essential to the mission.
"You need money to buy drugs if you want to work big cases," a narcotics officer explains. "You need money to pay informants if you want to work big cases."
For the past seven months, however, there has been virtually no money to buy drugs or pay informants, narcotics officers say. Without funds, the undercover cops are forced to focus on two-bit dealers.
"We are doing dogshit cases," grouses one undercover agent. "A recent warrant we returned was for some goddamned piddly-assed crack house that got no drugs."
DPS officers say they are frustrated over the lack of funds and are beginning to wonder whether their bosses can manage the department's $128 million annual budget.
"I don't know how in the hell anybody can start to explain an agency the size of the Department of Public Safety with the primary narcotics jurisdiction in the state of Arizona being without undercover funds for six months," says another narcotics officer.
Sergeant Tom Powers, president of the Associated Highway Patrolmen of Arizona, says he has received reports that funds also are scarce in the criminal investigations bureau, which has an annual budget of $18 million.
"Why? I don't know," Powers says.
Funding problems were broached with Albo during a January meeting of the association. The director, Powers says, did not have an explanation at the meeting, but promised a report next month.
In an interview with New Times (conducted after the association meeting), Albo said he didn't know that undercover narcotics officers were complaining over the lack of funds. He referred budget questions to Warner.
Warner, who oversees the budgets for the Highway Patrol and criminal investigations bureaus, acknowledges that the budget is tight, but claims there is no financial crisis.
"We have never been in the red," he says. "And we never will be."
But DPS insiders familiar with the budget claim Warner has overspent and is scrambling to keep the ship afloat.
"They let him [Warner] run through the money and then they gave him a promotion," says one high-ranking official.
Warner blames the budget crunch in part on slow reimbursement from federal agencies for joint narcotics operations.
He also says narcotics funding is down because the seizures of assets from drug suspects are down. He blames a change in state racketeering laws. Since the law changed, police can only seize the property of drug suspects who intended to sell the drugs. Small amounts for personal consumption are no longer sufficient for police to seize homes, cars and other assets of drug suspects.
As a result, the amount of RICO (Racketeer Influenced, Corrupt Organizations Act) funds has steadily fallen the past few years--from $4 million in 1992 to less than $2 million this year. The decrease, Warner says, is forcing undercover officers to use other techniques to catch drug dealers "such as getting a suspect to roll over to work off his charge rather than paying informants."
Warner insists that funding woes are not hampering criminal investigations or narcotics enforcement.
"The officers are still performing well and productivity is high," he says. "I don't believe it has had a negative effect."
But the financial squeeze is eroding morale. Minutes of the December Associated Highway Patrolmen meeting indicate that rank-and-file officers expressed concern over a lack of pay raises, and a dearth of money for overtime.
Adding fuel to the fire were December's round of promotions, which elevated several captains to major and catapulted Warner from major to lieutenant colonel. All the promotions come with significant salary increases--Warner got a $13,000 annual raise. Yet lower-ranking officers will receive no pay raise this year.
The promotions mean DPS' upper management has swollen to levels rivaling those before Symington initiated Project SLIM to reduce the size of state government.
"For a while, we attempted to streamline, but one wonders how effective those attempts were," Powers says.
While DPS gets top-heavier, Powers says several studies have shown the department needs at least 100 more officers to perform its statutory duties.
"We have had no increase in manpower while road miles have increased and funding to do this has not risen," Powers says.
Money problems also are having an impact on DPS support operations, which are staffed primarily by civilians. DPS director Albo acknowledges that the department has a high turnover among communications specialists and computer programs because of low pay.
The department is trying to address pay problems with a five-year plan that funnels raises each year to specific classes of employees. This year, for example, a 1 percent merit-pay hike for each employee and an across-the-board raise will be put into one fund and distributed only to lieutenants. In previous years, captains and sergeants got raises.
Frustration within DPS is reflected in a statement read at the December Associated Highway Patrolmen meeting. After noting that top managers were getting promotions and pay raises, and reminding DPS brass that their primary job is to support the officers who risk their lives each day, the statement laid down a challenge to the Albo-Warner team:
"Show us that you can and are going to do your jobs."
One of the most important jobs facing Albo and Warner is internal discipline. Few actions taken by DPS leaders send a clearer signal to officers on the street.
If decisions handed down in the past couple of months are any indication, DPS managers apparently don't expect much from their subordinates.
In separate personnel actions, Albo and Warner have signaled to the troops that tolerable behaviors include driving while intoxicated in a state car and then lying about it, and cheating on a lieutenant's examination.
In June 1995, DPS undercover narcotics agent Ron Padilla was stopped by Phoenix police after the state car he was driving almost struck a police car.
According to a DPS internal investigative report, Phoenix officers detected alcohol on Padilla's breath. Padilla told the officers he was on duty and that his passenger was an informant. So rather than arrest Padilla, he was turned over to DPS supervisors.
DPS supervisors took Padilla to a station where he recorded blood-alcohol readings of .145 percent and .139 percent. Anyone with a reading over .1 percent is considered intoxicated under state law. Nevertheless, Padilla was not arrested, although DPS did send a criminal report to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.
County prosecutors declined to prosecute--the blood-alcohol tests were inadmissible as evidence because Padilla was never arrested, according to published news accounts.
The internal DPS investigation determined that Padilla lied to Phoenix police; he actually was off duty at the time of the incident and the passenger was not an informant. The DPS investigation concluded that Padilla should be fired.
Charles Warner, then a major heading up the criminal investigations bureau, played a crucial role in that decision. Warner wrote in the report that "officer Padilla's actions . . . demonstrate a clear and willful disregard for the public, his fellow officers and the DPS."
Padilla resigned in November 1995 to avoid being fired. Within two weeks, he landed a job with the Capitol Police, an agency whose members are little more than glorified security guards.
Last year, Padilla applied for reinstatement to DPS, and last month director Albo approved his rehiring.
Warner says he was unaware of Albo's decision regarding Padilla, but says he supports the director.
DPS officials of nearly every rank say they're outraged that Padilla is back on the force.
"We've had four officers killed in the last seven years by drunk drivers," says one officer. "You counteract all the discipline by hiring him [Padilla] back."
In the second case, Warner recommended, and Albo last month approved, a one-rank demotion for Sergeant Mark Remsey, who was caught cheating on a lieutenant's examination.
Remsey obtained the test answers from a secured locker, according to officers familiar with the case.
Warner recommended that Remsey be demoted from sergeant to officer III, a move that will cut his salary about $8,000 a year.
Neither Remsey nor Padilla returned phone calls seeking comment.
Told that many DPS officers view Remsey's punishment as a slap on the wrist, Warner replies, "There is more to the case than meets the eye."
Indeed, there is. During his year at the Governor's Office, Albo worked with Remsey's wife. And Remsey has served as Warner's administrative sergeant for two years.
"I never had cause to question his ability, his integrity, and I say this is a surprise," Warner says of Remsey's cheating.
Surprise or not, other DPS officers say there was only one legitimate punishment: termination.
"That's an offense in which you should be fired, because it was an ethical violation," says a former senior DPS officer.
Perhaps the greatest question among DPS officers is whether Warner is up to the task as assistant director.
Asked to state his job qualifications, Warner gives a vague response.
"Well, I think I have very strong interpersonal skills, which I think are critical," he says.
A number of DPS veterans are betting that those skills won't be enough to keep Warner from making a major blunder in managing DPS field operations.
"The man has no ability," says a senior officer. "And no one will point out the obvious mistakes."
Favoritism, budget problems, illegal and improper use of the state aircraft and questionable discipline already have occurred under Warner's watch.
Further trouble for Warner may loom ahead.
His chief patron, Governor Symington, faces a difficult criminal trial this summer. It could end his second term in office.
If Symington were forced out of office, what would happen to Charles Warner?
Only time will tell, but director Albo provides one scenario.
"If I left here tomorrow for some reason, and a new director came in and chose not to keep Charlie where he is, then he would be a lieutenant again," Albo says.
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