Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu has been catching some serious heat over the way his office handled the search for missing hiker Christopher Hensley.
The PCSO's own search crew combed the Superstition Mountains for days. But it was Superstition Search and Rescue, a private, all-volunteer team ousted by the sheriff in 2009, that found Hensley's body within a couple of hours of starting its search.
Local newspapers have run stories and editorials highlighting the PCSO failures.
What does Babeu do? Schedule an appearance on Fox News? Brenda Garza Hermanson of rightwingmarket.com posted this blurb on her Facebook: "Paul Babeu will be on the Hannity Show Friday night -- Don't miss it!"
If he is making an appearance, who knows what Babeu will be railing about on the right-wing network -- immigration reform? The IRS? The Associated Press? Benghazi? It doesn't matter, really, any White House scandal will do.
Either way, local folks are intent on holding Babeu and those he assigns to search for vulnerable, lost residents and visitors accountable.
Adam Gaub, managing editor of the Maricopa Monitor, wrote one editorial with the headline: "At PCSO, pride goeth before a life."
Babeu's office claims that Tonya, Hensley's wife, didn't give it sufficient information. And it says that the team that did find him -- Superstition Search and Rescue -- only got the information it used to locate Hensley's body because of PCSO efforts.
Gaub takes the PCSO to task for its stance.
"The thought that a mother of two young girls desperate to find her missing husband would not do her utmost to share information with investigators is ludicrous. Pouring salt on the open wound of the Hensley family's life right now to avoid any acceptance of blame is the height of arrogance," he writes. And, as New Times has pointed out in previous blog posts and news articles, Gaub notes that Hensley hasn't been the first victim of the Superstition Wilderness that Babeu's search coordinators haven't been able to locate.
But if the Hensley case were an isolated incident, maybe it would be plausible to argue that, in the confusion, things on both sides got missed. It's not. Since sheriff Paul Babeu began the phasing out of the Superstition group from part of the County's search and rescue efforts in 2009 (PCSO claims Cooper wouldn't take a background check, though PCSO spokesperson Tami Villar told the Apache Junction News in 2009 it had to do with personality conflicts), there have been several cases where PCSO SAR has whiffed and Superstition has come in to find the body, usually within hours.
In the case of Kelly Tate in 2009, Superstition's team found him after PCSO SAR called off a wide-ranging, five-day search, a mere 150 yards from where PCSO SAR had set up camp. Medical reports revealed Tate suffered a heart attack, but who's to say he might not have survived had he been found within the first few hours rather than five days later?
Should the pettiness on the part of PCSO continue in this regard, it eventually will cost someone his or her life -- if it hasn't already. The search and rescuers of Babeu's team are not amateurs by any stretch, but to keep away a team with well-trained members who have a proven track record of success and national awards to boot, it shows the ego of PCSO and its leadership is more important than the lives they are charged with protecting.
A real leader finds a way to work out differences and do what's best for the public - especially when lives are at stake.
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Instead of working out differences, Babeu is asking the Pinal County Board of Supervisors for more money to fund his search-and-rescue operations.
Supervisor Todd House told the Queen Creek/San Tan Valley Independent that the PCSO is asking for an additional $65,000 for such expenses.
From the Independent:
"It begs the question, if we have a search and rescue group that would be doing it right at no charge, why aren't we using volunteers who are highly qualified?" Supervisor House said. "I think it's a purely political situation, and I hope to push it to a budget situation. I know there's a lot of bad blood between SSAR and the sheriff. I've heard various reasons but I can't substantiate anything. We need to address this. If it saves one life, I'm certainly willing to sit down at a table and talk."