Despite support of the Sheriff’s Posse system voiced by new Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, the Sun Cities organizations face an uphill battle for increased membership — at least for a while.
The posses have faced additional training for two years, following District Court Judge G. Murray Snow’s order in the wake of the Melendrez racial profiling case against former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Part of the order requires sworn deputies and Posse members to complete 20 hours of training, most of which focuses on the Fourth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution to ensure bias-free policing. In addition, this training has been offered only at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office headquarters in downtown Phoenix.
After the initial 20 hours, deputies and Posse members must complete 10 hours of reminder training annually.
“That’s a lot of traveling and into heavier traffic,” said Mary Heiser, Sun City Posse commander. “That is burdensome and intimidating to some people.”
The additional training is scaring off some recruits, and some longtime Posse members are leaving the organization because of it. Add that to naturally dwindling numbers as members get older then die, and the posses appear to be fighting a losing battle of attrition.
While Mr. Penzone and his new administrative staff see the value in additional training, they also understand the need to find ways to help the posses cope.
“We are trying to make the posses as professional and efficient as we can and with a level of training they did not have before,” said Mark Casey, MCSO public information director. “But at the same time we don’t want people driven away.”
Mr. Casey said MCSO officials are working to make training less difficult for Sun Cities residents by conducting it in those communities.
“We will also make them audience appropriate,” he said. “But at the same time, we need to comply with the Snow order.”
Posse members have three levels of training available. The 20-hour course, and its annual followups, are included in the basic level. But this year two sections of traffic control were moved from the basic level to intermediate. The latter includes training on prisoner transports, pre-booking, use of force, defensive tactics and mechanical restraints, all activities the posses would not be involved in. Unfortunately, Posse members who do not participate in intermediate training are not eligible for traffic control duties.
“People can help at the Sun Bowl in the parking lot, but not in the street,” Ms. Heiser said.
The posses would still be able to secure area perimeters at accidents and other incidents, according to Jack Page, Sun City Posse recruiting officer.
Mr. Casey was not certain at press time whether the decision to move traffic training up a level was an MCSO decision or one dictated by adjustments in the Snow order.
In the past, Posse members directed traffic at accident and other incident scenes, as well as special events. Fewer Posse members able to direct traffic means that task will fall to sworn MCSO deputies, stretching personnel in District 3 more.
“We know that traffic support is important,” Mr. Casey said. “We are analyzing how that change will affect traffic control.”
He added, the new administration is researching many aspects of MCSO operations.
“That will help us make decisions about the disposition of deputies,” Mr. Casey said.
Ms. Heiser said Sun City Posse lost a number of members because of the switch of traffic training to the intermediate level. The Sun City Posse has 46 members for patrol and another 34 associates who perform non-patrol duties, according to Ms. Heiser. There are also four members who retired from the Posse but continue to help where needed and another that helps with training, she added.
“We have a number of applications in for new members,” Ms. Heiser said.
But training can pose a problem to increasing numbers in other ways.
“We recently had three go downtown for training, but two did not pass,” Mr. Page said.
It takes about three months for recruits to clear an MCSO background check, according to Ms. Heiser. They are then fingerprinted and photographed before they get their T-number (for training). Basic training, including the bias-free 20-hour training, is completed before they get their P-number (patrol), and they are then further trained in Sun City.
Posse members man booths at local expos and other events to recruit new members, according to Mr. Page. They also speak at various Sun City groups and promote the agency when they are on duty, he added.
“Our own policies hurt us a little bit, too,” he said.
The Posse requires members to have an Arizona driver’s license to operate their vehicles and members must be available nine months of the year. Ms. Heiser said the Posse Governing Board will research options for policy changes that could help build and retain higher membership numbers.
“Aside from all that, until we see what will happen with the new sheriff, we are doing all we can do,” she said.
Sun City West Posse is facing similar challenges.
“That’s where we’re losing all our members,” said Sun City West Posse Commander Bob Carneiro.
For new recruits and longtime sworn posse members alike, the additional training is seen as a burden, especially since it only applies to enforcement duties posse members never carry out, such as traffic stops and arrests, Mr. Carneiro added.
After 21 years as a patrol sergeant in the city of Mount Vernon Police Department in New York and nearly eight years in the Posse, because he has not completed intermediate training Mr. Carneiro can no longer direct traffic when car crashes occur at Sun City West intersections.
“This is where I’m getting all my headaches now,” said Mr. Carneiro. “When accidents happen, what do I do? Do I just drive by and wave?”
Of Sun City West’s 99 sworn posse members, four have completed the intermediate level training and seven have completed the MCSO Qualified Armed Posse training. The remaining 88 are in limbo until the Posse receives further clarification, said Mr. Carneiro.