Maricopa County taxpayers have paid for the training of 2,694 badge-carrying men and women who make up Sheriff Joe Arpaio's posse. They have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to train 800 of those posse members to shoot straight.
Yet only 21 warm bodies fill chairs this morning at the Durango Complex.
It's the second Saturday of Arpaio's posse drug-bust program, Operation Rolling Thunder, but few posse members have rolled out of bed.
They're scattered sparsely in a sea of folding chairs, some in plain clothes, others dressed to look exactly like sheriff's deputies. Most carry sidearms.
Sergeant Rich Rosky of the narcotics division is shuffling papers at a podium. It's the sworn officer's job to give the posse morning assignments, and he looks like he'd rather be elsewhere.
He asks the 19 men and two women if anyone would volunteer to answer phones. There's an agonized silence and some squirming in the folding chairs, and Rosky must cajole them. Finally, a volunteer raises his hand.
The rest, hoping for meatier assignments, breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Rosky then gets the attention of the two women, who sit several rows away from each other.
"I'm going to pair you two together. It's not a sexist thing, but I figure you two can talk to each other," he says.
"That is a sexist thing," one of the women answers.
Giggles wash over the room. The women end up paired together, but they take it good-naturedly, filing out with the rest of the posse to the unmarked cars waiting outside.
Rosky has grouped them into teams that will transport suspects arrested by narcotics officers. Other teams will roam freely, waiting to hear about busts going down. Then they'll speed to the scene to back up the sworn deputies.
The posse members lucky enough to get this detail are introducing themselves to one another and shaking hands. They tend to be the ones dressed most like deputies, and they stride out of the building in anticipation.
You can almost feel the sworn officers crossing their fingers.
In the three years since Arpaio announced his intention to build up the county's civilian posse and put it in law enforcement situations, critics have warned of the day that a rash volunteer pulls his weapon and kills someone.
That probably won't happen soon. Only a small number of the most dedicated volunteers actually turn up regularly for posse programs, and most of the time they're simply transporting prisoners, answering telephones or selling pink underwear.
Besides, the posse's already caused plenty of damage without firing a shot. At least that's what some of the sheriff's severest critics say.
They say Arpaio has misled the public about the cost and effectiveness of the posse, and that he's done it solely to boost his popularity. He's crassly cashed in on the volunteerism of thousands of concerned citizens while putting real law enforcement in jeopardy, particularly in the county's unincorporated areas.
These critics should know what they're talking about. They work for Arpaio.
In the past six months, New Times has interviewed dozens of deputies, both active and recently retired, from every division of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. They tell of a severe and widespread crisis in morale and a general lack of respect for "America's toughest sheriff."
Arpaio's sworn officers say that law enforcement has taken a back seat to public relations and the posse.
Public records bear them out. Between 1992, the last year of Sheriff Tom Agnos' administration, and 1994, Arpaio's second year as sheriff, training hours for posse members increased 6,000 percent. Training the posse has become the primary task of the department's training division, displacing instruction for enforcement officers, jail detention officers and civilian staff.
Deputies say that while Arpaio tells the public the posse saves the county millions, the opposite--that it has actually cost taxpayers millions--is true. After Arpaio launched his first Christmas season mall patrol in 1993, sworn officers were sufficiently concerned about this duplicity that some of them leaked news about it to the press. Pressured by the leaks, Arpaio called for an internal audit of the program: It showed that the "free" six-week holiday program cost the county $160,000.
Deputies also charge that most of the money spent for posse training is wasted. Officers heavily involved in training say that eight in ten posse members disappear after finishing training and never donate any time to the department. A dedicated posse man who donates more than 1,000 hours of his time each year calls 80 percent a conservative figure, and says getting posse members out for what they call "Joe shows"--posse events staged for media--is like pulling teeth.
Arpaio predicted that Operation Rolling Thunder would mobilize 1,000 posse members; records show that 100 turned out on the first day and the numbers dwindled quickly thereafter. By the fourth week of the highly publicized program, an average of nine posse members was showing up each day to help bust drug dealers. That's nine of 2,694, or 0.3 percent.
Perhaps most important, the shift in Sheriff's Office resources to the posse--"Joe's sacred cow," according to one retired deputy--has come just as the agency has been put under severe budget restraints. At a time when Arpaio has complained about budget cuts threatening his ability to perform mandated functions (he went so far as to sue the county Board of Supervisors in 1994, saying that he'd have to close jails unless he got more money), he has poured the department's energy into building up his private civilian army.
Deputies say that shift of resources has had real impact for sworn officers. Advanced training programs have been cut and pay increases are on hold. They say the shift has also put the county's residents in unincorporated areas at risk: Patrol districts are asked to donate men and vehicles to posse programs targeting incorporated areas where more voters live, and where the press is more likely to pay attention.
And the press has obliged, responding uncritically and perpetuating the notion that Arpaio's "2,700-strong posse" is acting en masse, throwing bad guys in jail left and right, saving the county millions.
Now the sheriff is holding up his posse as a model for the rest of the country. His book, America's Toughest Sheriff, repeats his bogus claims for a nationwide audience, encouraging readers to start posses in their own hometowns. At book signings, Arpaio is congratulated and adored, the champion of a public that thinks his programs are effective at fighting crime.
Arpaio's employees say it isn't so. And they're letting him know it.
When Joe Arpaio sits down for an interview, he can't wait to describe the gun battles he's survived. Turkey. Mexico. Panama. Name the country, he dodged bullets there when he was an agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
What he's less apt to discuss are the pot shots his own employees have taken at him.
Like the time he and his wife, Ava, returned from a European vacation. It was 1976 or 1977 (Arpaio's unsure on that point after so many years), and the couple had landed at Boston's Logan Airport after a flight from Rome. Customs officials, alerted by someone inside DEA to look for a drug runner named Joe Arpaio, detained the couple and interrogated them.
The Arpaios' luggage was searched and it was some time before Arpaio's story--that he was a narcotics agent, not a smuggler--checked out.
Arpaio's former DEA colleagues say he spent the rest of his career there trying to find out which of his employees set him up for the humiliating prank. He still doesn't know.
"These things you go through when you're a manager quite often, or when you're a sheriff or the head of an agency and so on, so that didn't bother me. But it was a little comical," he says, sounding more annoyed than amused.
Arpaio is sitting behind his desk, looking haggard; the night before, he was in California to film an episode of Comedy Central's Politically Incorrect. Never mind that the host called him America's "stupidest sheriff"--the cable-TV program provided the national exposure he craves. And Arpaio makes it plain that the next journalist is champing to get into his large, wood-paneled office to interview "America's toughest sheriff."
But he has enough time to acknowledge that, yes, the Logan Airport story is true. "Yeah, yeah, it was a prank. Yeah, okay. So what?" he asks. He's incredulous that his men are spreading this story around. "In 1996 someone mentioned that happened, that someone searched my luggage? How the hell? Was it in my book?" (It isn't.)
If Arpaio were truly the toughest sheriff in America, few of his employees would likely find fault with him. In the mock-military culture of law enforcement, where majors and captains give orders to lieutenants and sergeants, there's no shortage of machismo. But Maricopa County's deputies, like anyone who spends more than a few minutes with Joseph M. Arpaio, know that the labels attached to him--variations on the "mean" and "tough" themes--are completely inappropriate.
Arpaio isn't tough or mean. Bellicose, maybe. In person, the pudgy 62-year-old seems more frail than frightening. Deputies say they've been instructed to take it easy if they're ever transporting the sheriff in their patrol cars.
The toughness thing is an act, and even Arpaio seems fully aware of it. One minute he's an avuncular paisan who misses the old days when a lawman and a reporter could talk over cigars in a dimly lit tavern. The next minute he's a self-righteous social reformer shouting most of the get-tough slogans he shouted at four other reporters earlier that day.
That his deputies are talking about him, and not in the kindest terms, doesn't seem to faze him. Arpaio brushes it off as the grumblings of "two or three disgruntled employees."
"That's normal in any organization. But since the deputies association, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the AFSCME, all the unions support the sheriff, I feel pretty good that I have the major support of my troops."
But when it comes to disgruntled employees--armed, no less--the U.S. Postal Service has nothing on the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
"I can't believe the people of this county think this guy is as great as they do," says retired deputy chief Bill Miller. "They never sit in morning staff meetings and listen to this guy slapping and pounding the table, acting like an idiot and chewing people out because one of his men talked to the media at a crime scene." Arpaio's obsession with controlling press coverage--so that it focuses entirely on him--has worn down the people around him, Miller says.
Miller and other present and former officers portray Arpaio as so consumed with the fear of news leaks that he pursues "dime droppers"--law enforcement cant for officers who speak privately with reporters--with a single-minded viciousness. (When a copy of the Sheriff's Office internal video magazine was leaked to the press in 1994, Arpaio reportedly went ballistic. He fired staff videographer Gary Josephson, saying publicly that budget shortfalls were to blame. News reports contend Arpaio got the wrong man--another source had leaked the tape--and Josephson is still fighting to get his job back.)
But as Arpaio scrambles to plug the leaks, an increasing number of deputies are coming forward to speak--albeit anonymously--about the crisis facing the Sheriff's Office. Few are in as good a position as Miller to judge how widely the discontent had spread in the ranks.
"Morale was shitty. It was bad. I was working as watch commander at night. I was out there with the deputies. I was in the jails. I was all over this county. . . . There was just no respect for this man."
Morale has deteriorated so badly that even Arpaio can't ignore it, Miller says. In January, at the same time opinion polls identified Arpaio as the state's most popular elected official, he was so unpopular with his own deputies that he embarked on a four-week, morale-boosting tour in his patrol districts.
At the first stop on his tour--the District 2 substation in Avondale--Arpaio miscalculated badly, giving his deputies essentially the same tough-on-crime stump speech he gives to reporters or Rotary Clubs every day.
"He bangs his chest for 45 minutes and says, 'You owe your jobs to me,'" says one officer. Arpaio's arrogance, he says, made the deputies madder than ever.
Attendance at the meeting was mandatory. "If it wasn't," says another District 2 deputy, "we wouldn't have shown up. Arpaio's lost all respect with us."
News that the meeting had been a tense one, and that several deputies had made their frustrations plain, spread to the other districts. Things were smoother during the next week's meeting--in Mesa's substation--but a deputy there says the district's captain had made it clear that his men weren't to embarrass Arpaio, as the Avondale law officers had.
Arpaio's third stop took him to Sun City and patrol District 3. Concerned about confronting the sheriff directly, District 3 officers anonymously printed up a list of questions for the sheriff. New Times obtained a copy of the list several days before the meeting.
"Why do we have to constantly do their job?" reads one question, referring to the Phoenix Police Department. "Why can't we concentrate on criminal activity in the county? Contrary to what you tell the press, you aren't chasing hookers out of Arizona, only to adjacent streets," a reference to the sheriff's use of the posse to target prostitutes on Van Buren Street in 1994 and 1995.
"Will the $380,000 profit from those awful pink shorts be used to train posse, so the sworn people can have their training budget back?" reads another. Deputies say that the posse's moneymaker--souvenir pink shorts that commemorate Arpaio's gimmick of dyeing inmate underwear pink, ostensibly to keep it from being stolen--is an embarrassment to the department. They're wildly popular with the public, but the deputy who wrote this question exaggerated their profitability (as does Arpaio every chance he gets). It's true that gross sales of the pink underwear have exceeded $400,000, but profits have only reached about $170,000.
Still, that's quite a pile of cash. Arpaio says the Posse Foundation plans to use it to reimburse the posse for such expenses as gasoline used in the mall patrols, but it's only spent $3,000 for that so far. Twice as much was spent on a half-page ad that appeared in the Arizona Republic during Super Bowl week; the ad warned visitors not to commit crimes. It was widely seen as more political ad than crime deterrent.
The sheriff says he doesn't remember being presented with questions at District 3. When a reporter hands him a copy of the list, Arpaio says he's never seen it.
Two District 3 deputies tell New Times that Arpaio did read from the questions, but only the less controversial ones--such as a concern about overweight members of the command staff and the posse hurting the agency's image.
At one point, a deputy stood up and put it directly to the sheriff--what was he going to do about their concerns about the posse? The deputy said that he and his colleagues had no quarrel with the traditional "mission" posses--the search-and-rescue organizations and community watchdog groups which existed before Arpaio took office--but with the "Arpaio posses," which were created recently and have drained the department's precious resources.
The District 3 deputies say Arpaio launched into a long justification of his posses, telling the men and women that they should be proud of them, especially with the posse concept poised to spread all over the globe. Deputies quote Arpaio as saying, "When you use the word 'posse,' automatically you get the headlines. Automatically. It's that magic word, 'posse.'"
During a subsequent interview, Arpaio elaborates on his response: "I did mention that every time we use the posse for a program, the press seems to emphasize the posse." But he denies saying it in the context of justifying the posse's existence. "We were talking about the news media and my response was, unfortunately, every time the posse does something, the press seems to pick up on it. But when a deputy does something, they don't even print it. . . . That was what I was saying. It wasn't that we were using posses to get the press."
The deputies say Arpaio made it clear the posse program would proceed at full tilt. They say he did throw them a bone, however, promising to work hard to get them a long-awaited raise.
Right after he's reelected, that is.
Arpaio denies the charge, saying he's never used a pay raise as a bargaining chip to get his deputies' support.
Later, during the District 3 meeting, Arpaio asked a retired officer in the front row if he'd concealed a tape recorder. Deputies say the man responded by standing, unzipping his trousers and exposing himself.
The incident produced some nervous laughter, which increased after the retiree delivered the punch line: "It wanted your autograph."
As was the case with the deputies' questions--and is the case with almost any unflattering event--Arpaio doesn't recall being flashed in front of the District 3 deputies. "I don't remember a guy exposing himself, no. If they did, they did. They were having a barbecue and beer, I believe, just prior to that. I don't know if the guy had too many beers, if he did that. But why would a retired deputy be there? I don't know. And if he's retired, maybe that tells you something. If he did that, he should be retired."
About a quarter of the book America's Toughest Sheriff is devoted to Maricopa County's posse, sandwiched between a section on Arpaio's famous tent jail and shoot-'em-up stories from his narc days.
Len Sherman, the co-author, approached his neighbor Joe Arpaio about a book in 1994, shortly after he had moved to Arizona from his native New York. He found Arpaio wary. Not, he says, because the sheriff wasn't ready for national exposure, but because, well, Arpaio doesn't have much use for books.
"Why is anyone going to buy this book?" Sherman says Arpaio asked him. "You go to bookstores and they're filled with books--nobody's buying them."
Sherman finally convinced the sheriff that the book would give him a way to spread his message about fighting crime without having to go through pesky reporters. (The two of them are particularly proud of a chapter that rails against the media, which is ironic, given that local media have been unabashed cheerleaders for Arpaio.)
The toughest task that faced Sherman, and the one at which he was ultimately most successful, was putting the sheriff's ideas into writing while preserving the sheriff's inimitable voice. Occasionally, however, Sherman's own ideas take over.
It was his notion, for example, to begin the posse section with a chapter on search-and-rescue missions. He says he wrote it for the book's national audience, which he guessed would appreciate an introduction to the traditional sense of the posse.
The chapter contains a heartwarming story of a posse man flying his own plane--on his own time and at his own expense--to find two travelers stranded in the desert.
This is not an Arpaio innovation.
A volunteer search-and-rescue force was the role of the posse before Joe Arpaio took office on January 1, 1993. And, unanimously, deputies and other employees who agreed to talk with New Times say that, unlike "Joe's posses," the so-called "mission posses" continue to fulfill their roles admirably. They include the men and women who scour the desert for missing people, the retirees who patrol Sun City, and the divers who can be counted on to plunge into the county's lakes on a moment's notice.
Arpaio changed this traditional posse focus with a massive redirection of agency resources that puts volunteers in actual law enforcement situations and makes them as much like real deputies as possible. The idea stirred the Arizona imagination, and soon volunteers were flooding the department to get into training programs.
So many joined that new posses had to be invented to take them. Maricopa County's posse is actually 53 separate posses of varying size, all under the authority of the sheriff. "Joe's posses" were created to bring in the new kind of volunteer--the gung-ho crime fighter who wants to wear a gun and a badge. They include the "operations" and "community services" posses, two generically named groups that typify the new influx of volunteers. Arpaio aggressively recruited new posse members with billboards and splashy media events, proudly trumpeting how many Valley residents were answering his call.
What he didn't tell the public, deputies say, is how much of a burden the flood of volunteers put on the department.
"The bigger the posse gets, the more resources it requires," says John Thompson, who retired with the rank of major in 1994. "You end up pulling sworn officers away from what they should be doing. Then you're in deep kimchee."
The posse buildup was in full swing when he left, Thompson says, and he could see that it was taking its toll on the sworn personnel.
It gives him a sense of deja vu.
In the mid-'70s, Thompson worked for Paul Blubaum, another sheriff who increased the role of the posse. Blubaum gave posse members rank and allowed them to wear insignia during ride-alongs with deputies. Thompson says that gave the impression that posse members outranked the sworn officers, causing considerable friction. It was one of several factors that sent relations between the sheriff and his deputies south.
The latest in a long line of colorful and dubious Maricopa County sheriffs, Arpaio was the seventh that Thompson worked for. None, he says, has had such a negative impact on the agency's professionalism.
Nor has any sheriff allocated so many resources and trained so many volunteers with such abandon.
Under Tom Agnos, the previous sheriff, 5 percent of the training division's efforts benefited the posse. Detention officers received the majority of training in 1991 and 1992, with about a 70 percent share; enforcement personnel--deputies--took a 24 percent slice of the training pie.
In 1993, Arpaio's first year as sheriff, those numbers changed very little.
The shift of training hours to the posse in 1994, however, is remarkable.
Total training hours increased from 356,486 to 609,561 in 1994, and the posse's share exploded from 5 percent to 71 percent. Meanwhile, training for enforcement, jail detention and civilian employees decreased dramatically, both in total hours and as percentages. Detention officers, for example, saw their share go from 68 percent to only 23 percent. Enforcement employees, meanwhile, saw their total hours go from 91,254 in 1993 to 37,048 in 1994.
While posse training increased, the training division budget didn't. So advanced programs for enforcement officers--such as classes at the prestigious Bondurant driving school--were cut.
In 1995, training for the posse continued to explode, trebling to a total of more than 1.3 million hours, or almost six times more than all personnel--sworn, civilian, volunteer--received in 1992. Civilian training--classes for clerks and secretaries who must keep on top of a mountain of paper and changing technology--has vanished entirely. Training for detention officers continued to slide, but, in a reversal of the trend--and perhaps because of deputies' complaints--enforcement employees enjoyed a sharp increase in training last year, to 200,408 hours.
Still, deputies say, they continue to feel the effects of the posse's virtual takeover of the training division: During 1995, eight out of every ten training hours at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office were expended on posse members.
It's another morning at the Durango Complex in the same room where Sergeant Rich Rosky had handed out drug-busting assignments a few weeks earlier. This time 45 posse hopefuls await the start of a CPR class. They seem to fall into two distinct groups: White men in their 20s and white men in their 50s.
"Morning!" exclaims Gary Niki, instructor and posse member.
"Good morning!" the troops bellow back, and it feels like summer camp. Niki talks and gestures to the class like it's filled with third graders.
"How many people have seen a heart attack, seen someone go down?" he asks. Ten people raise their hands.
"How many have been to a real bad accident?"
About 20 respond.
"Good! I'm glad to see that!" Niki exclaims with Richard Simmonslike enthusiasm. He's nearly as patronizing as well, and the class proceeds at a glacial rate. The subject is interesting, but it's hard to gain confidence in an instructor who butchers the word "arteriosclerosis" four times in as many sentences.
Niki's trying to generate interest in saving lives with humor. Most of it's insensitive--he's making cracks about fat people when most of his audience carries hefty spare tires and Niki's no rail himself. He gets off a zinger about answering calls in "Seizure World" and laughs heartily at his own joke.
"Why do we call it Seizure World? Because there are a lot of seizures out there," he explains.
Niki turns to the differences in heart-attack risks for men and women, and he asks if anyone can tell him how sex-change operations change those risk factors. Remarkably, no one can.
To get to this point in their crime-fighting education, the posse members in Niki's class must first submit applications and go through background checks. Sheriff Arpaio has insisted that those checks are as thorough as any deputies face.
Deputies disagree. With the sudden influx of so many volunteers, they say, standards were relaxed to handle the overflow. "The posse applicants have some backgrounds--Jesus Christ, you couldn't believe they were letting these people in," retired major John Thompson says.
Those charges are reflected in a memo produced by a former posse supervisor. Lieutenant Roy Reyer's five-page memo, written in 1994, charged that application standards were dangerously lax, and he cited numerous examples of embarrassing posse fiascos:
"In one instance," Reyer wrote, "a new posse man was given the assignment of treasurer of the Operations Posse. Over five thousand dollars of this posse's fund were in his control. A background check of this individual later showed that he had an outstanding out-of-state warrant for fraud."
The posse man was asked to turn in his badge.
Other posse members, Reyer charged, showed up to class drunk or carrying concealed weapons. Some slept in class.
And there's the posse member "who was late for boarding a commercial aircraft, flashed his badge and was permitted to board after identifying himself as a deputy sheriff on official business." The Sheriff's Office claims that the posse man had accidentally laid his wallet on a ticket counter with his badge showing. The agency insists that it works aggressively to oust undesirables, and says the number of bad apples is remarkably low for an organization its size.
But the posse continues to have problems with some of its members. Notable ex-posse members include:
* Richard Mysliwiec, 1994 Jeep Posse Man of the Year. The Sheriff's Office says he was asked to leave the posse after officials realized their original background check had failed to turn up a 1993 arrest for theft.
* Sandor Benyik, who was kicked out of the Operations Posse in January when the Mesa Police Department informed the Sheriff's Office that he had been arrested for child molestation.
* Mike Donnelly, a member of the Litchfield Park Posse, was found in possession of a stolen 1995 GMC Jimmy that he'd outfitted with an emergency light bar. Stolen hand-held radios--their serial numbers scratched off--were also found in the vehicle. Donnelly told investigators he didn't think it was unusual that he'd paid only $250 to somebody in a river bottom for a $30,000 automobile. The vehicle was returned to its owner and, despite a deputy's report that in his opinion Donnelly knew the vehicle was stolen, the county attorney returned the case for more investigation.
Although a list of posse members released by the Sheriff's Office five months later still includes Donnelly, a spokesman says that's because of a computer error, and that Donnelly was asked to leave the posse immediately after he was found in possession of the vehicle.
It's apparent that Joe Arpaio believes there's no such thing as bad publicity. Arpaio craves publicity like a smoker craves nicotine.
Attorney General Grant Woods was livid in 1993 when he discovered that New Times had lured him to be photographed buying a hot dog from an escapee from Arpaio's jail system. The embarrassing photo was reprinted in several national publications.
A short time later, Arpaio cornered a New Times writer to complain that he hadn't been asked to pose.
Arpaio has built a well-paid staff that's consumed with the task of getting him press coverage. It's another story, however, when a reporter asks for facts to back up what the sheriff says.
"You're burying us with your [records] requests," Lisa Allen gripes to a New Times reporter one sunny March morning.
Behind her, the Sheriff's Office is doing some burying of its own--a chain gang is filling in the last foot of soil on the grave of some nameless pauper at the county's potter's field.
Allen, a former TV reporter, is the sheriff's "community relations coordinator," and she's paid $46,000 a year to massage national and international media.
Arpaio's executive assistant, Tom Bearup, gets a whopping $76,000 to "coordinate public affairs activity," and two public information officers make $50,000 each to handle local press.
Allen and Bearup watch contentedly as reporters swarm over Arpaio's cemetery media event. Journalists have been summoned in an attempt to quell clergy criticism of Arpaio's latest PR stunt--a program dubbed "Scared Stiff," which uses chain gangs to bury indigents (something jail inmates have done for years). Allen had written to the clergy members, inviting them to the burial and explaining that the Sheriff's Office couldn't prevent journalists from photographing them with the sheriff. The ministers recognized that Allen was attempting to use them as props in a photo opportunity, and although two attend the burials, they refuse to be photographed with the sheriff.
That doesn't prevent the interments from turning into another Arpaio media love fest. Camera operators jockey for the best angles; one drops prone to get the best shot of chains jangling as the inmates walk by. "I saw one of the inmates cry!" a reporter says excitedly, scribbling in a notepad.
On that evening's news, the chain-gang controversy will be told on Arpaio's terms. No reporters will raise thornier questions about the political motivations behind "Scared Stiff," which, not coincidentally, was unveiled the day America's Toughest Sheriff hit the bookshelves.
News organizations have been slow to report developments that disparage Arpaio, even if the reporting would have required a single phone call.
Last August, the Department of Justice notified Arpaio that it would investigate charges of abuse in his jails, including allegations of physical abuse of inmates by staff, covering up instances of abuse, and withholding access to lawyers and medical care.
After New Times broke the story of the investigation, however, other Valley media waited ten days before deciding it was newsworthy.
Arpaio says he isn't concerned about the investigation, but when it comes to shielding himself from lawsuits, he says he needs all the protection he can get.
Protection from lawsuits is the pretext under which the Sheriff's Office purchases video compilations of Arpaio's TV appearances, at a cost to taxpayers of about $900 each month.
Arpaio pays for this service from state funds earmarked specifically for jail facilities. After New Times disclosed that the Jail Enhancement Fund was being tapped to pay for the videos--among other questionable uses--the county attorney asked the state auditor general to investigate.
Arpaio claims the video service protects his agency from litigation. But when he's asked what criteria the video service use to decide which shows to record, he answers: "When I talk."
Sheriff Arpaio not only acknowledges the huge amount of training going to the posse, he boasts about it. A particularly tedious chapter in his book dwells on the stages of a posse member's education, from the initial interview, background check and legal-issues classes to advanced weapons training. It's all free, Arpaio says, with volunteers teaching volunteers, so the more's the better.
Public records say otherwise. The county does expend funds to train posse members and to deploy them. Quite a lot of money, actually.
The explosion in posse training in 1994 was accompanied by a huge jump in ammunition purchases. And unless the sworn deputies suddenly found themselves in the mother of all gun battles, that increase came because of the truly incredible amount of lead fired by posse members in training.
About three in ten posse volunteers go on to complete weapons training, enabling them to carry firearms during posse operations. To attain that status--called QAP for qualified armed posse man--volunteers must complete 70 hours of training at the county firing range. Bullets are provided by the taxpayers of Maricopa County.
Under the previous administration, the Sheriff's Office purchased $32,000 in ammunition in 1991 and $41,000 in 1992.
Under Arpaio, ammunition purchases have averaged $160,000 per year. During his three years as sheriff, Arpaio has expended $359,000 more than if he'd maintained ammunition purchases at the 1992 level.
In his book, Arpaio says county residents shouldn't begrudge posse members the few bullets they receive as a kind of graduation present for completing QAP training.
But that coy statement can't obscure that the sheriff is fully aware how much money goes to posse firearms training.
"I save millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars on this county budget, and no one ever talks about it," Arpaio told the committee drawing up the county's new charter in February. "If you want a list of the millions that I saved as sheriff, I'll be glad to give it to you."
Arpaio claims that the posse saved the county $10 million in 1995.
A deputy who has worked closely with the posse says those numbers are bogus. He says he knows because he's helped fudge them in the past.
"Those are phantom figures," he says. "We calculated them from what it would cost to pay for the cars and horses the posse members provided on their own. We wouldn't have bought that shit anyway."
The Sheriff's Office insists that it calculates the money saved by the posse in the man-hours donated by volunteers. In other words, the sheriff asks the public to believe that the county would otherwise pay $10 million yearly for the services of faux deputies with no real law enforcement powers. (Arpaio applies similarly twisted justification for his claim, made on Tom Snyder's national Late Late Show, that he's saved Maricopa County taxpayers $100 million. When New Times asked Arpaio to document the savings, he explained that a new jail would cost $100 million, and that because he hasn't demanded a new jail, he has saved $100 million.)
On their own, posse men and women have no more ability to do police work than any other citizen. It's only when they're in the presence of sworn officers that posse members attain a sort of quasi-deputyhood, and can assist in detaining suspects, transporting prisoners and taking fingerprints. In the major "Joe shows," then, there are often as many sworn personnel present as volunteers, and the cost of Arpaio's "free" posse shoots upward.
During Operation Rolling Thunder, the recently completed posse drug program, sworn man-hours outnumbered volunteer hours 8,840 to 5,356. But when Arpaio brags about the success of the operation--346 arrests and seizures of two kilos of methamphetamine, one of cocaine, and 388 marijuana plants--it's not the sworn officers who get the credit. Valley media cooperate willingly, giving the public the impression that the arrests and seizures would never happen without Arpaio's volunteers.
In fact, Arpaio deploys his paid employees so as to exaggerate the effectiveness of the posse.
Spokesmen for the sheriff deny the charge. They do acknowledge, however, that paid personnel outnumbered volunteers in the "posse" operation. And that's something Arpaio knows is the biggest problem with his grand plan for the posse.
Although he continues to claim that the posse is cost-free, in his book he calls for using pink-underwear money to pay off-duty officers to do what they do now: baby-sit posse members on county time.
Much of it is overtime.
A memo obtained by New Times shows that deputies in the patrol districts were asked to sign up for shifts during Operation Rolling Thunder, but only on their regularly scheduled days off. In other words, deputies were called in from the county's unincorporated areas to provide law enforcement for the City of Phoenix, and were paid overtime by the county to do so.
At time and a half, the 8,840 hours expended in Operation Rolling Thunder would have cost county taxpayers approximately $200,000.
Chief David Hendershott oversees Sheriff Arpaio's posse program, and he still insists it doesn't cost a dime. "I think that's a matter of semantics," he says. "The posse is free."
That's not what posse members themselves are told, however. Potential QAP trainees are told they'd better be serious about becoming arms-qualified because it costs the county so much to train them.
Posse man Donald Sroufe says a deputy made that clear to him when he decided to qualify with a weapon.
"He told me it cost so much to train posse men to go through QAP training that they want to make sure we were going to stick with it. I told him I would," says Sroufe, a bartender and college student.
In return for the resources expended on his behalf, Sroufe says the Sheriff's Office asked him to donate eight hours each month to posse activities.
He says he would like to have followed through on that commitment. If only he didn't have such a full work schedule behind the bar, and so much schoolwork as well.
In the eight months since his graduation, Sroufe had donated only 20 hours to the posse, with about eight hours going to activities directly related to law enforcement.
According to a deputy who was heavily involved in posse deployment, that's a high rate of return. The deputy says that officers who work with the posse expect the bulk of posse members to disappear without a trace after they earn their badges.
A dedicated posse man who logs more than 1,000 hours each year thinks the situation is actually bleaker. He wouldn't allow his name to be used because there's no appeal mechanism for the posse--if he's kicked out for talking to New Times, he'll have no recourse. He even asked that the name of his posse be kept out.
He says that the number of truly dedicated posse members is embarrassingly small. Maybe 50 hard-core souls keep the "Joe shows" going, he says. And getting the large numbers out, especially when Arpaio wants them for the cameras, well, that's gotten increasingly difficult.
"I couldn't figure it out," he says. "We tried everything. We tried hammering them, telling them, 'If you don't come out, you'll lose your badge.'" He says many of the people who enter the posse full of enthusiasm burn out quickly as the monotony of police work becomes evident.
"Some get disenchanted when they realize it's not all red lights and sirens," he says.
It's not news to him that the sworn deputies are unhappy with the posse. "You have to prove yourself to the deputies. I can't blame them for how they feel. I blame the posse," the posse man says.
After thousands of volunteer hours, he says he's earned the respect of several deputies who are glad to let him ride as a second man.
A deputy from one of the patrol districts says that posse ride-alongs are mostly unwelcome among his colleagues. As for himself, he refuses to let a posse member ride shotgun.
"In a serious call, we have to concentrate on this asshole sitting next to us with a gun," he says. "You have to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn't shoot you in the back or trip and kill himself."
The dedicated posse man says he understands the deputy's frustration. "One of the biggest problems with the guys in charge of us is that they're very good people, but they don't have the skills to run a large volunteer organization," he says.
That's just what Arpaio has tried to turn the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office into.
Posse men Kent Keller and Jeff Grossman patrol 27th Avenue, inside Phoenix, waiting to hear of a drug bust going down. Operation Rolling Thunder is in its second week, and Keller and Grossman have been selected to roam freely, ready to back up sworn deputies making arrests.
Keller, a retired Phoenix police officer, says he and Grossman often ride together, and they've been targeting the prostitution on 27th Avenue. Keller says they've heard stories of a "watch house" in the neighborhood; the prostitutes tell them it's an underground place where people pay to watch couples have sex.
"It'll be fun to find that one day," Keller says.
Saturday morning seems to be a slow time for hookers. The only prostitute on the street is talking to some abortion protesters outside a clinic.
Keller's Bronco is a posse member's dream. It's equipped with two police radios, grill-mounted red and blue lights, and Sheriff's Office decals. The mounted police radios aren't working properly, so Keller fiddles with them and then gives up. Luckily, he and Grossman have hand-helds and they stay in radio contact with headquarters.
But there's nothing happening. It's been two hours since they got their assignments, and Keller and Grossman haven't heard a peep out of the sworn deputies who are supposed to be sweeping down on crack houses.
Keller decides to stop and do some surveillance on two drunks sitting on the sidewalk outside a 7-Eleven. Keller says he's pretty sure the younger one is dealing crack, and he's been videotaping the suspect, hoping to catch him doing it. Today Keller and Grossman are just going to sit and see what they can see.
Keller parks his Bronco at a curb about 50 yards away in a no-parking zone, in full view of the quarry, who appear to be Native Americans. But the suspects look totally blitzed, and don't notice that they're being watched. They seem to be hitting up passers-by for smokes and striking out.
As Keller and Grossman settle in for the stakeout, a motorcycle missing its license plate pulls up next to the Bronco and stops for a red light.
"What's this?" Keller says as he starts the Bronco. He waits for the motorcyclist, a young black man, to make a left onto 27th Avenue, then guns the Bronco in hot pursuit.
As a rule, posse members aren't supposed to take enforcement action unless a sworn officer is present. Deputies say they've tried to make the volunteers understand they have no authority to make traffic stops, but some of them can't seem to help themselves. Chief Hendershott says that Keller is an exception because he's a retired police officer who's retained his law enforcement certification.
Keller turns on the red and blue flashing lights, but the motorcyclist, even after looking back, doesn't seem to understand that Keller wants him to pull over. He pulls the bike into the parking lot of a Circle K and doubles back around some fuel pumps.
It's a brilliant move, and all he has to do is punch it and he's scot-free. There's no way the Bronco can turn around quickly in the postage-stamp-size parking lot.
Instead, the motorcyclist gets off his bike and pulls off the lid of the gas tank. He still doesn't seem to realize that he's wanted by Sheriff Joe's posse, and he's surprised when Keller and Grossman rush over to him, their badges prominently displayed.
The motorcyclist is apologetic, and explains that he bought the bike that morning. He produces a bill of sale and Keller calls it in on his radio while Grossman stands watch. Nearby, a Phoenix police officer drives off after stopping briefly to watch the bust. And only a few feet away, a pickup truck full of little Latino boys in soccer uniforms is pointing at the posse men and can't stop laughing.
Facts keep getting in the way of the myth of Sheriff Joe. Crime statistics, for example, don't support the notion that Arpaio's policies are having any real effect. The nation's crime rate has fallen gradually for five straight years, as has the rate for Western states in general. But Maricopa County's crime rate, after falling in 1992, turned sharply upward in 1993 and 1994. (Department of Justice figures for 1995 won't be available for several more months.)
Although the upward trend coincides with Arpaio's tenure, it would be unfair to blame the sheriff, because crime rates often follow demographic shifts--such as Maricopa County's recent growth spurt--over which a sheriff has no control. At the same time, it's unfair for Arpaio to imply that his policies deter crime, something he has not hesitated to do.
More facts explode another central myth: that Arpaio's highest priority is fighting the proliferation of drugs in Maricopa County.
When budget shortfalls forced difficult decisions for Enforcement Support--the division that runs the posse, search-and-rescue operations and the DARE program--it was the DARE program, which sends deputies to schools to educate kids about the dangers of drugs, that got the ax. It was suspended for a semester in the spring of 1995 just as posse training experienced the single-largest quarterly increase.
Arpaio feigns shock when it's suggested that his posse buildup was politically expedient. He says the posse is apolitical, and that he couldn't use Posse Foundation money for political ends even if he wanted to.
To friendlier audiences, however, Arpaio lets his guard down. In February, he told KFYI's Barry Young, "I just need to sell more pink underwear and I'll get reelected."
There's little doubt that he will. With his polls showing an approval rating exceeding 70 percent, he expects to face little challenge in November.
And he can expect little scrutiny from the media. More often than not, his stories are printed with a minimum of checking. Stories like the one he's repeated dozens of times, of how he and a reporter spent the night in his tent jail without any added security.
It's one of the most celebrated chapters of the Sheriff Joe myth.
And it's untrue.
The Sheriff's Office admits that several members of the Tactical Operations Unit--Maricopa County's version of SWAT--were stationed in a building nearby all night, ready in case Arpaio needed to be bailed out.
Arpaio says, "They may have been on call, but I'm going to tell you one thing. I told my staff I didn't want any protection. I say that all the time, even when I have threats. Because I don't want to tie up the deputies, okay? Now whether someone had TOU on call, you'll have to ask the staff on that. But there was no TOU in the tents or around the tents that I know of. . . . It's my staff. I went in there as things were.
"I presume any other sheriff would have had an army surrounding the tents."
The problem with that being, Joe Arpaio is the only sheriff who has an army.
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