Canine Officer Doing What He Loves



Dep. John France of the Gila County Sheriff's Office loves a lot of things -- working with his canine partner, Alee, water activities, and staying up with what's going on in the streets.

A longtime member of the Pinetop-Lakeside Police Department, he and his wife, Dottie, made frequent trips to Roosevelt Lake and eventually moved a travel trailer into one of the parks in the Tonto Basin area.


Dep. John France and his canine partner, Alee.

Eventually, the couple bought property in the southern part of the county.

As part-time residents of the lower Rim country they became acquainted with other residents in the area. Working in law enforcement, France also became friends with his Gila County comrades.

"They started to recruit me," France said.

Working in administration with the PLPD was not as enjoyable as he wanted, so he and his wife talked it over and he called one of his friends in the GCSO and asked him whether there was still a place for him.

With more than 20 years in law enforcement, a certified canine partner and already having a place to live in Tonto Basin, France said it wasn't long before he was hooked up with the GCSO.

He joined the Payson office in June, bringing Alee, a Belgian Malanois -- an 8-year law enforcement veteran herself -- along with him.

The move came right as the Willow Fire blazed out of control, he said.

His first day on the job he came in, introduced himself to Trudy Cory, administrator of the Payson GCSO and she apologized because everyone was so scattered.

He said he told her not to worry, he was used to that sort of thing, he had been field operations commander for law enforcement during the Rodeo-Chediski Fire.

Things eventually leveled off and the work is pretty much the same as it is with all rural agencies.

"We get to go out and do all kinds of fun stuff," France said. He is also part of the sheriff's dive team and participated in the effort to recover the victims of the recent flooding in Tonto Basin.

In fact, working the flood was both the most challenging and rewarding aspect of his work with the GCSO so far.

He was called out to start notifications around 11 p.m., Monday, Jan. 3. France and his wife are caring for their 5-year-old grandson, David, and until their home in Pinetop-Lakeside sells, Dottie France is continuing to work for Child Protective Services there.

She had gone up for the week and France was taking care of David -- he had not been scheduled to work either Monday or Tuesday.

"I wasn't taking the dog, so I got him up, put him in his robe and slippers, put a couple of blankets and pillows in the back of the Bronco and he rode around with me," France said. "He was my spotter, pointing out houses where I needed to go tell people about the flooding. He had a blast."

Later, as the tough work of the search and rescue began, France left his grandson with friends.

He said the work in the flood was rewarding because he lives in the area and knows the people and saw how the community pulled together.

"I saw how the department pulled together too, to help the community and one another," France said. "We have a great staff and great supervisors. It all went very smoothly."

Working the flood will not be France's last encounter with water as part of the GCSO. The department is sending him to boat operator school this summer, so he will have his dream job, being paid to be on the lake, as part of the patrol unit -- at least part of the time.

France and Alee, who is 10, will continue their partnership. He supervised the canine officers while with the PLPD, but Alee is the first dog that has been assigned to him. While she was with the department for eight years, she has only been with France for the past three.

Alee is trained for both patrol and narcotics detection. He said on average, the Belgian Malanois police dogs will have a 12-year working life, but because they are so well cared for, it is sometimes possible for them to continue on the job until they are 14. He said he thinks he and Alee have at least another two good years together.

So, expect to see Dep. France and Alee around Payson and Roosevelt Lake for awhile to come.


Name: John France

Occupation: deputy

Employer: Gila County Sheriff's Office

Age: 48

Birthplace: Ancon Canal Zone, Panama

Family: wife, Dottie, three grown children and five grandchildren

Personal motto: Look for the positive

Inspiration: Various mentors over the years, including my father and close, older male friends who helped me get into law enforcement

Greatest feat: Living this long

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: water activities, like jet ski

Three words that describe me best are ... optimistic, integrity and solid -- you can count on me, I'm available, I get the job done.

I don't want to brag but ... I've had a lot of experience in law enforcement.

The person in history I'd most like to meet is: Mark Twain

Luxury defined: A Caribbean cruise in an outside cabin.

Dream vacation spot: The Caribbean or South Seas for the water and scuba diving.

Why Payson? We enjoy the area, living in the country and it was time for a life change.

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