A March 24 memo sent by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to Valley posse organizations warns that many posse vehicles violate a 2012 policy.
The memo, obtained by the Phoenix New Times this morning, came about a week before the announcement over the weekend by the Sun City West and Sun City posses that they'd suspended operations. The posses later said they were open for business -- but that they couldn't use their vehicles, which remained parked as of Tuesday afternoon.
Marked posse vehicles apparently aren't covered with liability insurance, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office told the public, and the office has been working with county leaders over the last couple of days to solve the problem. Arpaio's office has been "overwhelmed" by the public reaction to news of posse operations being hampered, a news release from the office yesterday stated.
Yet Arpaio's office has been less than transparent in explaining what's going on. The memo obtained by New Times helps explain the issue, but also raises more questions:
"In reviewing the vehicles used by each individual posse, it has come to my attention that your posse has vehicle(s) with government issued license plates," says the memo written by Lieutenant David Toporek, commander of the MCSO's Enforcement Support Division. "This is in violation of Maricopa County Sheriff's Office policy GJ 27.8.C.1.c."
The memo reportedly went out to every posse unit. New Times obtained it from a posse unit, but not the units of Sun City, Sun City West or Westbrook Village.
Toporek included a copy of the most recent version of the MCSO's policies and procedures for posse units. That version is dated July 31, 2012, though, raising the question of why the posses were being notified about it in 2014.
All together, the 57 Maricopa posse units have 115 marked vehicles, most or all of which are registered with government plates.
The Sun City and Sun City West posses are among the larger units, with 14 and 18 marked vehicles respectively. Posses are affiliated closely with the sheriff's office, but are run independently as non-profit businesses. Most of their funding comes from public contributions. Vehicles are purchased and outfitted by the individual posse units.
"You must make arrangements to have these vehicle(s) re-registered immediately," Toporek's letter to the posses goes on. "Upon completion, you must contact the Enforcement Support Division and make arrangements to have the vehicles inspected per MCSO policy GJ 27.8.D."
The latter policy reference was also included in the July 2012 policy memo sent to posses. Apparently, these required vehicles inspections have not been occurring.
Finally, Toporek lets the posses know about a looming deadline to fix their vehicle's registration problems:
"If the vehicles are not re-registered by April 24, 2014, they will no longer be authorized for use by the Sheriff's Office."
Arpaio's office has failed to release detailed information about the posses' vehicle problem, and some of the office's announcements conflict with details coming from the posses and county administration.
For instance, on Saturday, Arpaio spokesman Chris Hergstrom told the public, "This is a preliminary posse decision relating to a county policy. The Sheriff's Office is looking into the situation and reviewing the issues with county administrators."
The county says none of its policies have changed.
And Toporek's March 24 memo to the posses seems to indicate the problem is due to a Sheriff's Office policy. However, it stands to reason that before the July 2012 prohibition on posse vehicles with government plates was ordered, Sheriff's Office officials would have conferred with county risk managers.
On Monday, Arpaio spokeswoman Lisa Allen issued a statement claiming that Sun City and Sun City West were the only two posses that have "taken it upon themselves to park their vehicles until a solution is found."
The New Times has not independently verified the statement.
Yet when we talked to Allen this morning, she said she didn't know whether or not posse units still using their marked vehicles were covered by liability insurance.
In any case, Toporek's memo indicates that posse vehicles with government plates are violating policy when they hit the road.
At a Sun City posse headquarters meeting this morning, members -- mostly white-haired folks who live in the senior-living community -- were told by Captain Roberta Lambin to "rest up" during the no-vehicle crisis and be ready for a lot of catch-up work when the problem is resolved. Representatives of Arpaio's office thanked the group for their service and expressed concern that the lack of posse patrol units on the street would mean more calls for service to the Sheriff's Office.
One woman asked whether posse members were still covered by insurance if they were injured while working a special event. She was told she'd be covered by "worker's comp."
The Sheriff's Office has not yet responded to a request for comment about Toporek's memo.
A new email sent to posse units this morning from the Sheriff's Office asks for information about their marked vehicles, likely in preparation for negotiations with an insurance company about covering the posse vehicles.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.