Rebuffed in his bid for oversight of Colorado City marshals, Attorney General Tom Horne now wants taxpayer funds for another police agency to patrol the polygamous community.
Horne figures he needs about $420,000 to give to the Mohave County Sheriff's Department to maintain a presence in the town on the Arizona-Utah border. He said without such outside oversight, the town marshals will continue to be used as an arm of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints.
There is precedent for such funding: Horne dug that much out of his own budget this fiscal year to pay overtime for sheriff's deputies. But the attorney general said he does not have that kind of cash lying around for the new budget year that begins July 1.
The request comes after Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, refused to hear a House-passed bill which would have required the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board to look into any police department where a certain percentage of their officers have lost their certification. Then if that agency finds those "systemic'' problems the county Board of Supervisors could, with a supermajority vote, oust the police chief and appoint a specialist to run the agency for up to four years.
Officially, HB 2684 identifies no community. But everyone on both sides of the issue made it clear during House debate that it is designed to be a first step toward outside control of the Colorado City marshal's office.
Crandell told Capitol Media Services Monday he would not give the bill a hearing in the Senate Committee on Public Safety despite its 52-7 approval by the House. Crandell said he's not convinced that this is a realistic solution.
That problem relates to repeated reports of the actions of officers in enforcing church discipline.
"When women try to escape (from polygamous marriages) they capture them and bring them back, so they're essentially in prison,'' Horne said.
"They've participated in expelling over 1,000 young boys so that the old me can dominate the young women for their harems without competition from the young men,'' he continued. "They enforce the law according to people's religion.''
Last year, Horne tried to have the local police department legislatively dissolved. When that faltered, he returned this year with a modified version which would have allowed the local Board of Supervisors to automatically dissolve the local police department once half of its officers were decertified.
That proved no more acceptable.
The version finally approved by the House a month ago keeps the department in place -- with any officers that remain -- but gives an outsider appointed by the supervisors the power to run the agency and hire and fire as he or she decides is necessary.
Crandell said that's no solution at all.
He said county oversight and even appointment of an overseer deals with the immediate question of what police officers are doing now. But he pointed out that oversight authority lasts a maximum of four years.
"And what happens when you pull out?'' he asked. Crandell said at that point the police department is turned back over to the same town officials, paving the way for another round of problems.
Crandell said a more permanent solution might be for the state to effectively take over or even dissolve the community. But at this point, that is not up for discussion.
That leaves the idea of having Mohave County deputies patrolling the city and, in some ways, keeping an eye on the town marshals.
"Mohave County could have somebody up there to prevent them from abusing people's rights,'' Horne said.
Legislators have yet to adopt a budget for the coming year. And House Speaker Andy Tobin said no one from Horne's office has approached him about the request.
Crandell said the patrols by sheriff's deputies appear to have worked and quieted down reports of problems. He said it makes sense to have them continue.