Sheriff John Armer said he kept the promises he made to Gila County residents four years ago and intends to do the same through his next term at the helm of county law enforcement.
"Promises are easy to make, but more difficult to keep," Armer said.
When he took office in January of 2001, Armer had a lot of work to do, including a jail that was declared sub-standard by the Department of Justice.
"The jail was not up to standards and the Department of Justice stepped in and looked at that and said you have got some areas that need to be fixed," Armer said.
"It's not a pleasant thing because they are not concerned about the tax base and cost -- they just want it fixed."
Medical care for inmates was one of the problems Armer had to fix before the federal government would continue to allow the county to operate the jail.
"The sheriff's office didn't have control over medical functions in the jail," Armer said. "We changed that and now we have a larger medical staff and inmates get proper medical care."
Unlike municipal police departments, Armer, who spent 21 years with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and five years as the Globe police chief, said county law enforcement has a unique set of challenges.
"The jail is a big part of the sheriff's obligation," Armer said. "There is more diversity and you deal more with rural law enforcement issues."
Armer said what makes the job difficult is that Gila County spans more than 7,400 square miles, which can be tricky to manage at times.
"A sheriff's deputy has got to rely on his own abilities without backup," Armer said.
"If you are out in Young and you have a problem, it could be an hour and a half until you have adequate backup."
This is one reason why Armer decided to deputize the U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers. They can now enforce state laws as well as federal and can assist deputies when needed.
"I have done everything I can to secure additional coverage, but less than 4 percent of Gila County is privately owned," Armer said, "so the taxpayers support county-wide government. You have to be sensitive to the effect of increased property taxes on property owners."
Armer and his wife, Claudia Sue, have owned the family homestead in the Sierra Anchas since 1969. Although they both worked in Maricopa County, their goal was to, some day, move back to Gila County.
"When I took the position as the Globe Police Chief, it allowed us to do that," Armer said.
Protecting the vulnerable
As sheriff, Armer said he put special effort and resources into the two populations he feels need attention -- the county's youth and elderly.
"Something I am proud of, is that our office has become proactive with our most vulnerable segments of the population," Armer said.
The sheriff's office has raised funds to send youth from all over the county to camp and encourages future law enforcement careers through its Explorer Group.
"This is where you need to expend resources," Armer said. "You have an opportunity to really affect kids who might be on the fence. The money we spend here we save thousands later on."
The sheriff's office also assisted the Elks Foundation make some repairs to a seven-acre camp near Workman Creek.
"The camp has been abandoned and the Elks Foundation has picked that up," Armer said. "We helped them with some labor and securing some equipment to open that back up. It may be open this summer and we want to put on a two-week summer camp."
Armer said he has also worked to educate elderly residents on how to protect themselves.
"The elderly are subject to their own type of criminals who prey on them," Armer said. "They are the ones who are responsible for where we are today and we owe them."
Armer's office has published guides to give to seniors so they know how to stay safe. His staff have also helped provide cell phones programmed just for "911" in case they need assistance.
Another promise Armer made prior to taking office, was improving benefits for his employees.
"I have provided a salary market adjustment for all employees of the sheriff's office, merit raises tied to performance and retirement benefits," Armer said. "I am very proud of the deputies and staff I have and I have been able to secure additional money from the county for the sheriff's office."
Having been a deputy for more than two decades, Armer is sensitive to the issues of his officers.
"We try to encourage our officers to take care of themselves, but we need to remember they see the worst things society can throw at them," Armer said.
"You take an officer, put him through academy and he comes out in the best shape he will ever be in. You work him all night long, put him in court half of the day, put him in a situation where he has to grab fast food -- basically, you just abuse him for 20 years and then wonder why police officers die so young."
Armer said the county has been offering more wellness programs for all of its employees, including deputies.
Armer said that drug interdiction and education is a priority in his administration.
"I feel very strongly that drugs and substance abuse is at the root of nearly everything we deal with," Armer said. "You can't have too much enforcement."
The Gila County Narcotics Task Force, comprised of officers from the sheriff's office and the Department of Public Safety, has successfully taken a lot of drugs off the streets, according to Armer.
"Since January of this year, we took over 1,000 pounds of marijuana off the street," Armer said.
The task force also eradicated the largest marijuana grove in the state's history in October -- 19,000 plants were discovered near Young. Task force agents said it was, most likely, the work of a Mexican cartel.
"Most of the money that funds the task force, comes from the federal government," Armer said. "A quarter of a million dollars comes in to fight drugs. It's too important to let that go away."
Armer said he is most proud of the way he has created a cohesive sheriff's office and one that has formed a good relationship with the community.
"I am proud of the way I have pulled this sheriff's office together to work as a team and of the partnership we have formed with the community," Armer said.
"We go to great strides to make sure that our employees are professional and helpful and try to get accomplished what's best for the community. I would be willing to say that people have seen a difference."