Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio will reportedly discuss the snafu over vehicle insurance for posse vehicles in Sun City today.
Meanwhile, we found out that a third posse unit has parked its vehicles, contradicting information put out previously by the Sheriff's Office (which didn't respond to our inquiries about the fact on Wednesday).
The problem seems to have begun when a Sheriff's Office representative sent a memo on March 24 to posse units operating vehicles with government plates to let them know they were in violation of a July 2012 policy change.
The Sheriff's Office won't say what spurred the memo or answer questions about it. But the posse vehicles, which are owned by the posses, haven't been operating within the policy for a while, it seems.
The memo by Lieutenant David Toporek, commander of the MCSO's Enforcement Support Division, as we reported on Tuesday, had included a copy of a July 31, 2012 revision to posse policy.
"No Posse Branch vehicles or equipment will have government issued plates. The branch shall maintain primary insurance coverage on all such vehicles and equipment," the policy reads. "Vehicles owned by a Posse Branch that are used for Office related operations shall be inspected annually by the Enforcement Support Division. A record of each annual inspection will be maintained at the Enforcement Support Division for a period of three years."
The policy change, in turn, originated from the county in 2011, according to county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick. Back then, the Sheriff's Office agreed to various changes in response to the discovery that it had misspent tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds that should have gone to jail operations.
The Sheriff's Office crafted the July 2012 memo after taking advice from former county employee Rebecca Francis, who was for a time in charge of reviewing county policies, Gerchick says.
It's still unclear if the posse vehicles are covered by county liability insurance or not -- Lisa Allen of the Sheriff's Office seems to think so, writing in an email on Wednesday that her agency's officials don't believe it's necessary for the posse vehicles to be parked.
But posse members, after receiving the March 24 note from Toporek, are worried they'll be personally liable for claims related to their use of official law-enforcement vehicles.
At the Westbrook Village posse, an independent, non-profit corporation based in Peoria, cars and SUVs marked as Maricopa County Sheriff's Office vehicles sat idle yesterday morning in the parking lot. Captain Bill Sandvig, commander of the Westbrook posse unit, told us he'd been asked by Arpaio's office to refer all questions to the Sheriff's Office.
The Sheriff's Office, as we mentioned, wouldn't answer our questions on Wednesday.
Posse members use the vehicles to back up fire and police units, conduct welfare checks on senior citizens, and perform a long list of other activities and duties. Allen told us she'd heard that the Sheriff's Office would have to hire about 80 new deputies if operations were to stop at the Sun City posse alone, which has also parked its vehicles this week along with the posses Westbrook Village and Sun City West.
The other 54 posse units in Maricopa County may be operating without the proper insurance, in violation of the 2012 policy, or some of them may have also parked their vehicles. Posses have 115 marked vehicles and an unknown number of unmarked vehicles displaying government plates.
The posses won't be shutting down at any point, but their ability to provide services -- which is funded by area residents -- is hampered severely without their wheels. And the posses are at odds with Arpaio as to the extent of the problem. A statement by the Sun City posse calls the problem a "county-wide suspension" of the vehicles, which the Sheriff's Office disputes.
The Sun City posse statement says:
"Most all Posse Vehicles are out of service and suspended per action of M.C.S.O. This is stated as an insurance issue.
Please note that Sun City Posse in uniform are working the Sun Bowl, funeral watches and other activities in their own personal vehicles. The Sheriff hopes to resolve the Insurance issue as soon as possible. Patrol Cars are off the streets.
This is a County-wide suspension, and affects ALL Sheriff's Posse vehicles per Enforcement Support which is the central command of all Maricopa Posses. However some Posse units have resumed use of vehicles as this policy was issued in 2012. No Posses were ever told. Sun City, Westbrook, and Sun City West have decided to follow Enforcement Support suggestions."
No posses were ever told about the 2012 policy change?
Arpaio's got some explaining to do.
He'll be holding a news conference with County Supervisor Clint Hickman at the Sun City posse's headquarters at 3:30 p.m. today, reports yourwestvalley.com, the website of the Northwest Valley Newspapers' Daily-News Sun. We're still waiting this morning for confirmation from the Sheriff's Office, which we asked on Wednesday to notify of us of any upcoming news conferences.
UPDATE: At 9:33 a.m, the Sheriff's Office emailed reporters at local news outlets, including the Phoenix New Times to let them know about the news conference.
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UPDATE: Sheriff Arpaio & county resolve posse-vehicle insurance problem. County to continue covering insurance costs, says Supervisor Clint Hickman. We'll have a post with more details in the morning.
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