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.