By Rusty Bradshaw
Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office officials are researching ways to improve law enforcement in the Sun Cities.
That was the overriding message from Sheriff Paul Penzone when he visited the Jan. 8 Sun City Home Owners Association annual meeting. The sheriff was the guest speaker at the event and touched on MCSO efforts in the area and those of the respective community posses.
“We are looking at our organization to find ways we can staff more effectively,” Mr. Penzone said.
He added MCSO is facing shortages across the board and other difficulties. He explained the department was the same size, in terms of personnel, as it was in 2007. He also said salaries are so far below the standard that it has been difficult to retain quality staff.
“Growth will come. But it will come at a cost,” he said. “In the meantime, we have to find what it will take to expand our resources cost effectively.”
The sheriff said reliance on and support of the posses will continue.
“The posses are the best example of an extension of law enforcement,” Mr. Penzone said. “Our objective is to improve on the posse system, not eliminate it or suppress volunteers who want to help law enforcement.”
Mr. Penzone’s advisory panel is currently evaluating the posse system and is expected to make recommendations within the year, although a firm timeline has not been established, according to Mark Casey, MCSO spokesman. The same panel evaluated Tent City last year and recommended its closure.
“We had a prisoner population of up to 8,000,” Mr. Pensone said. “We found that the population had decreased to an extent that we could save some money by shutting down Tent City.”
The one permanent structure on the site is now being used to house the existing MCSO prisoner drug rehabilitation program. Some of the funds saved from closing the tent jails was used to establish a special response team for problems in Maricopa County’s other detention facilities and to purchase tazers, according to Mr. Penzone.
In addition to the posses, MCSO officials work with residents in other ways to improve law enforcement.
“SCHOA is working with Capt. (Paul) Chagolla (MCSO District 3 commander) to determine the types of crimes in Sun City and their location so we can develop a list of needs,” said Greg Eisert, SCHOA board member of Governmental Affairs Committee chairman.
“We are working closely with Capt. Chagolla to assure adequate safety of our residents, but he, too, is under the constraints of the federal court order,” Rob Robbins, PORA board president, stated in an email.
PORA of Sun City West officials had been trying to get some of the extra training required for Posse members conducted within the community, eliminating the need for members to travel to downtown Phoenix.
“The only progress that we can see is that MCSO has finally scheduled some intermediate training for our Posse this month,” Mr. Robbins stated. “This training will allow many of our Posse member to direct traffic on our Sun City West streets.”
\He added this is important for the safety of residents during this time when winter visitors return and there are addition vistors for spring training.
“We have obtained many names of licensed attorneys to train Posse members in the Fourth and 14th amendments, a training requirement to become a Posse member,” Mr. Robbins said. “MCSO has not utilized any of these qualified volunteers to train. Our Posse member must still go downtown to receive this training.”
Another PORA effort is to work with the ACLU to create an agreement or stipulation to present to the federal court to address and remedy the training requirements, according to Mr. Robbins.
“Our Posse members currently need to go through training for activities that they will never be forced to use,” Mr. Robbins explained. “Unfortunately, ACLU is not responding to our request to meet.”
Mr. Penzone also said his staff is working with District Court Judge Murray Snow’s office to find reasonable modifications to take the burden of extra training that is now required off volunteer posse members who do not conduct the tasks covered by the extra training.
“We hope to get changes in the court order as soon as possible, but that will take time,” the sheriff said.
The Sun City Posse de-affiliated itself from MCSO in November. But Mr. Penzone had praise for the group.
“Sun City is the crown jewel of the posses,” he said. “If we could replicate it in all areas, that would be great.”
The sheriff said MCSO has had about 60 percent compliance with the Snow court order in the past year, an improvement from prior to his election.
MCSO operates under a $320 million budget, with most — about 61 percent — spent on detention, according to Mr. Penzone. He added MCSO officials returned about $3 million to various municipalities that were housing prisoners for the sheriff’s office. That helped those municipalities offset the cost of that housing. He also said MCSO needed more deputies, and he wants to determine how much of a pay increase to MCSO personnel will be fair to all.
“Unfortunately, that means I will be coming to you (taxpayers) for more money,” Mr. Penzone said.
He also believes the posses need more members to increase their effectiveness.
MCSO established a prescription drug drop-off box at the District 3 station, 13063 W. Bell Road, to supplement the twice-yearly drug take back events. In response to a resident’s question, the agency also continues to focus on animal abuse cases, according to Mr. Penzone.
“The MASH unit still exists, although it needs upgraded, and detectives are assigned to these cases,” he said.He added staff is researching potential funding for upgrading the MASH unit.
“We thank you for the patience you’ve shown during our transition into the office,” Mr. Penzone told the Sun City audience. “I hope you will continue to show patience because in the end you will have confidence in the results.”