Please see update below: MCSO confirms current posse numbers at 986 as of today, a nearly 70 percent drop from the 3,000 the MCSO once claimed.
It ain't just Sheriff Joe's poll numbers that have dropped like a hot rock on thin ice.
Arpaio's much ballyhooed posse has taken a hit numbers-wise as well, according to the court-appointed monitor's latest quarterly report.
Arpaio uses his posse to garner media attention, sending his volunteer force of non-cops into battle against the community threat du jour, from immigration to thieves supposedly targeting Christmas shoppers to President Obama's birth certificate to illicit handjobs to you name it.
The sheriff periodically refers to the "thousands" of posse folk in the program, and his "about" page on MCSO.org brags about the 3,000 posse members Joe supposedly has.
"[N]o other sheriff's office in the United States today has a volunteer posse of 3,000 men and women, people from the community who give their time and money to train to be volunteers helping to keep the county free from crime," the page proudly proclaims.
However, Arpaio's office can no longer assert a volunteer force of 3K, at least not truthfully.
See, as part of federal Judge G. Murray Snow's dictates in Melendres v. Arpaio, the big racial profiling case the sheriff so spectacularly lost in 2013, Snow's monitor Robert Warshaw must issue regular reports on the MCSO's compliance with the judge's orders.
Page 40 of the most recent monitor's report, the fourth so far, notes that the Posse Personnel Management Unit, part of the MCSO's court compliance effort, has identified a total of 1,084 active posse members.
This jibes with what Arpaio's Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan said on the stand in federal court in April, while testifying during his ongoing contempt hearings.
At that time, he stated that there were "about 1,100 volunteers" under his command at MCSO, in addition to the department's approximately 3,500 paid employees.
He didn't specifically mention the posse, so he could have been including other volunteers as well.
Counting "all active, resigned, separated,or terminated members dating back to 2007," the PPMU came up with a total of 1,673 posse members, a number that calls previous membership claims into doubt.
In November 2014, the PPMU was tasked with coming up with a master list of all MCSO posse members and creating a personnel file for each individual.
Per Snow's orders, posse members, just like sworn officers, must receive 12 hours of training on bias-free policing, as well as six hours of training on the Fourth Amendment and immigration laws.
This, in an attempt to prevent any further racial profiling in the MCSO ranks.
Significantly, the monitor's latest report observes that, "failure to complete the training results in mandatory de-selection from the Posse Program."
My sources indicate that this is one reason for the drop in the number of posse members. Some of these volunteers don't want to be schooled in anything, despite the judge's orders, and some are simply incapable of being trained.
Assessing the amount of attrition involved depends on which numbers you use.
From 3,000 to 1,084 is a drop of about 64 percent. But it's hard to know how far back you'd have to go to find a time when the posse actually was at 3,000 members.
In 2009, the MCSO gave me a list of all of their posse members names, but many of the people listed actually were not active. I estimated 2,400 persons on the list at the time.
Using the number, 2,400, would indicate a drop of about 55 percent since 2009.
More recently, in a compliance document the MCSO submitted to the court in 2014, the sheriff's office estimated that as of May 2014, there was a total of 1,798 posse members.
If that's correct, there's been a drop of 40 percent in posse membership just in the last year.
But then there's this most recent number of 1,673, which supposedly goes back to 2007, according to the report. This would indicate a 35 percent drop, perhaps the best scenario for the MCSO.
Any way you cut it, the posse does not have anywhere close to 3,000 members, as the MCSO website states.
Still, 1,084 posse members with the additional training may be a better force to have in the long run than whatever it was before.
Posse members have badges and uniforms that are deceptively similar to POST-certified sheriff's deputies. Sometimes they carry weapons, though, on their own, they do not have the law enforcement authority of sworn peace officers and are only supposed to act in a support role for the MCSO.
But under Arpaio's lax leadership, posse members have been allowed to make arrests, participate in sweeps, do investigations, drive marked vehicles, and so on.
In one infamous embarrassment from the posse's past , posse members were allowed to participate in a big 2003 prostitution sting by the MCSO, where some posse dudes availed themselves of handjobs and other services of alleged working gals.
As a result, then-Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley refused to prosecute the 60 persons nabbed in the sting.
The posse itself has served as part of the base of Arpaio's support among the many retirees and others who think Joe walks on water.
The diminishing of that base, along with a recent poll showing that a majority of county residents view Arpaio negatively, indicate that Arpaio heads into a 2016 re-election effort as a wounded candidate, hardly the man he used to be.
UPDATE 1:06 p.m.:
MCSO's top PIO Lisa Allen got back to me on a request for comment, telling me that the current number of posse members as of today is 986.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
She stated that "not so very long ago, we had nearly 3000 volunteer posse members," adding that, "over time, I’m sure that a number of them dropped out or became essentially inactive."
"Then, after the Melendres ruling, we had to go through the list, contacting all them to order them to the mandatory training calsses. Many were not willing to do the training either because they did not have the time or interest or they did not agree with the ruling. I don’t know. But in any case, it was an opportunity to verify and clean up the list...We will continue to recruit and train and perhaps grow the posse but even at [current numbers], we remain the largest volunteer posse in the US."
If you're keeping score at home, from 3000 to 986 is a nearly 70 percent drop in posse members.