Explaining the value of maintaining the SPD

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By Mila Besich Lira

A few weeks ago community members and the Superior Town Council heard a presentation from Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu about the possibility of the Town contracting with PCSO for police services. At the request of several citizens and members of the Town Council the Superior Police Department was allowed to hold a forum on the benefits of staying with the Superior Police Department.

In his introduction, Superior Police Chief Lou Digirolamo explained that they were not hosting this forum to bash the services of the Sheriff. He explained that the Town has a great partnership with PCSO and many of the services such as the SWAT team and accident investigation were things that the town already receives with a mutual aid agreement. He also explained that the Town uses the Department of Public Safety for other services as well. As for training, all of the officers are AZ Post Certified and they attend all mandatory training.

One key financial point that Digirolamo made was the fact that if the Town votes to disband their Police Department the Town would need to pay $71,000 in vacation and holiday pay out to the employees that would be let go. The Chief also pointed out that if the Town were to keep the Police Department they would be able to control the budget as well as any political situations that arise. The Chief also cautioned that if a new sheriff was elected after the first five years the new sheriff may not honor the contract in the same way or he may want even more money.

Another cost that the Town would have to consider is the cost for misdemeanor crimes. Currently the Town cannot afford the jail costs or a Town Prosecutor that would be needed if the Town went to a contract with PCSO because the current magistrate cannot handle misdemeanor crimes.

The Town would also have to maintain some dispatch services as residents call the Police Department for animal control calls, street problems, and other public works needs.

Statistically the Superior Police Department has been improving on their service. In 2006 the department arrested 217 people, which is eight percent of the Town’s population. The department has been instrumental in completing cases so local criminals spend time in prison. In 2012, Superior Police Department had the best record per capita in police reports that were accepted by the County Attorney for prosecution.

Sergeant Bartlett also gave a presentation and talked about how due to the decreased budget at SPD now each of the officers are required to do their own investigations which does slow things down compared to when they had a a full time detective. He gave an example of how last year he had a sexual assault case that four victims and those types of crimes require a tremendous amount of investigation and support for the victims. Often the officer will travel with the victims to the Family Advocacy Center in Eloy of Childhelp in the valley. He also explained that when the discussion was first brought up to have PCSO assist the town, SPD was under the impression that PCSO would be helping with drug busts. “To date, PCSO has not popped one drug dealer or drug house,” explained Sgt. Bartlett.

Another situation that was brought up by the SPD was the fact that PCSO rotates their deputies every six months, and that would mean that Superior would have new deputies every six months. Other areas where the potential switch could hurt Superior would be on how warrants are paid. Right now the SPD can accept money orders for warrants and process them to the county. If the switch was made local residents needing to pay on warrants will need to go through the County’s electronic process which often will not process as quickly so the person will have to stay in jail longer. Impounded vehicles will also be handled on a rotating basis versus having a local business like Southwest Towing handle the tow. Residents who have vehicles impounded will face higher fees and may have to go to another community to retrieve their vehicle.

Residents were able to ask questions of the SPD and the Town Council. Resident Mary Darr asked the council if she could prove that people don’t want to change the police services would they listen to the community. After council members Tomerlin and Hansen said they would listen to the community, Mayor Valenzuela said that she could not poll the council members.

Town Manager/Attorney Kane Graves explained that he would prefer the Town to stay with their own police force because the Town will have more control over the budget and services and the cost is less than a contract with PCSO.

Councilmember Tomerlin invited all the residents to do a ride a long with the SPD to see what they encounter on a daily basis.

Councilmember Aguilar explained during his comments that he was the one who initiated a conversation with Sheriff Babeu on what PCSO could offer the town.

Mayor Valenzuela ended the meeting with stern comments to the community. His comments explained that he and the council were only looking at things to make the community better, and stated that there was no other political agenda. He questioned Mr. Graves’ comments that the Town cannot afford PCSO when the numbers he is looking at are the same either way. He also stated that he felt there was a lot of misinformation being spoken in the community.

Community member Bill Vogler spoke out against the Mayor, stating that he felt that Valenzuela has a conflict of interest in voting or negotiating this matter because he holds an appointed position with the PCSO and his daughter is also employed there. Valenzuela explained to the public that the County Attorney Lando Voyles along with Mr. Graves has reviewed this case and confirmed the Valenzuela does not have a conflict of interest.

The next steps for this potential change service will be for the Pinal County Board of Supervisors to approve Sheriff Babeu to enter into a contract with the Town of Superior for police services. The Board of Supervisors will be having a work session on this issue and will be voting on it in the coming weeks. Once the county approves the contract the item will be placed on the Town Council’s agenda for approval.

See more photos online at http://bit.ly/10jgVLU.

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