Four years ago, Darrell Stubbs, then a Democrat, retired from the Gila County Sheriff’s Office and set his sights on taking his boss’ job.
John Armer then had held the sheriff’s position for eight years, continuing a long tradition of Democratic sheriffs.
Armer’s defeat was not to be in 2008. Despite aggressive campaigning, Stubbs lost by 640 votes.
Four years later, Armer is retiring and Stubbs has a new party affiliation.
Stubbs takes on Adam Shepherd, who Armer is endorsing, in the Aug. 28 Republican primary for Gila County Sheriff.
The race for Gila County Sheriff remains one of the most contested this election. You can hardly attend a community meeting without hearing a candidate push their message or drive down the street without seeing a campaign poster.
In one corner, Stubbs takes on Shepherd. For the Democrats, Craig Jones is up against Ray Van Buskirk.
While Stubbs was making his bid for the top job four years ago, Shepherd was quietly etching his own path, serving as undersheriff — the second highest official under Armer.
“As my record shows, I have not been just sitting around wishing to be your sheriff and planning to run if the opportunity arose,” Shepherd said. “I have made it a career goal and have worked diligently over many years to prepare myself both in experience and education to ensure that I am absolutely the best qualified candidate to serve in this position.”
Stubbs: Front-line experience
While Stubbs lacks Shepherd’s administrative experience, he says he makes up for it with front-line policing.
A deputy for nearly his entire 25-year law enforcement career, Stubbs said he worked the streets, not behind a desk. He says his interaction with residents, at both the jail, on the streets and the lake, garnered him respect from both supervisors and constituents. He also says he cultivated a common sense tact to problem solving – a skill vital for a sheriff.
“I am respected as a leader amongst law enforcement peers and other law enforcement officials within the state,” he said.
Stubbs said it is time for change in the sheriff’s office – time to “take back” the county from criminals and the old way of doing things.
Shepherd: Endorsed by sheriff
Shepherd worked closely with Armer as undersheriff, but he says he brings his own ideas to the job.
While Stubbs and Shepherd started their careers at the sheriff’s office only years apart in the 1980s, their paths quickly divided.
Shepherd rose in the ranks, from deputy to detective, sergeant, lieutenant and eventually undersheriff in 2005 until his retirement in February.
In all those years, Shepherd maintained a near-perfect record. He has never been the subject of an internal investigation or formal reprimand.
His personnel file is weighed instead with employee of the quarter nominations, thank you cards and training certifications.
Stubbs: Complaints in file
Stubbs’ file, also filled with accolades and course certificates, has a few scratches.
The sheriff’s office formally disciplined Stubbs for time card fraud. Various supervisors also wrote Stubbs up for rude or aggressive language and behavior.
Many also praised Stubbs’ work with the public.
The results of the election will not only affect how resources are split between northern and southern Gila County, but who manages one of the largest budgets in the county. The sheriff is in charge of an annual budget of $11 million, the largest expenditure in the county’s $37 million general fund.
The budget, however, barely covers jail and patrol operations — forcing deputies to do more with less.
The budget challenges are not lost on either Republican candidate.
“Manpower and whether or not the county is financially equipped to take care of the crime is the biggest issue facing the county,” Stubbs said.
To fight crime, the sheriff’s office needs more deputies, he said.
Shepherd said a loss in officers would lead to an increase in crime, especially that fueled by drug users and distributors.
“In the case of narcotics, it is my belief that a great deal of criminal activity is related to illegal drug use and trafficking, and the diligent attention to the problem by law enforcement is the only deterrent that keeps it in check,” he said.
But beyond deputies, the office needs Narcotics Task Force members and school resource officers to help fight these crimes, Shepherd said.
In the past, grants fueled these positions, but state and federal cuts have drastically stunted or ended these programs.
Shepherd said he would make sure these vital programs continue by either shuffling funding or looking for new grants.
“Even though the funding for these programs has diminished, they have proven to be of great value to the citizens themselves, and the community as a whole,” he said.
To deter crime, Stubbs said he would like to switch to a community-policing schedule, where deputies work in the same communities they live.
“Community policing is a cost effective approach that stations deputies in the areas where they live and spend their daily lives,” Stubbs said. “They have an investment in the community – schools, churches, businesses, (where) people are their friends and neighbors.”
Stubbs said he would like to “maximize” county finances to get more officers on the street.
Shepherd said budget constraints likely limit adding new officers.
Therefore, deputies need to work in central locations where they can travel in any direction, he said.
Shepherd proposes offering deputies who relocate to these areas an incentive.
Shepherd would also like to see the office ramp up its volunteer programs, adding more posse and reserve deputies.
“It is my belief that a strong command presence of the sheriff’s office in all of the communities that it serves is one of the best deterrents to criminal activity and as sheriff I will strive to provide that coverage,” he said. “There are opportunities in some cases to augment coverage in certain areas by placing deputies in communities and leveraging volunteer programs, and as sheriff, I will take advantage of every one of them.”
Different emphasis on finances
Stubbs said he plans to run the sheriff’s office under the three C’s- communication, community policing and cash flow.
“The sheriff’s office needs to be a conduit of information for law enforcement organizations, the community and public officials for successful crime prevention,” he said.
“I have mentioned that I want an independent audit when I take office so that I can determine where your tax dollars are currently being spent and to assure you that your tax dollars are being spent wisely and efficiently,” he added.
In terms of managing an $11 million budget, Stubbs said while he has not managed a budget of that scope, he has always run his personal and small business finances responsibly.
Stubbs said he would surround himself with a team that “believes we are stewards of the taxpayer’s money.”
Shepherd said he has been making decisions that affect the office’s budget since he was promoted to sergeant in 1998.
When he was promoted to lieutenant in 2001, he gave more input on the budgeting process.
“My job then was to submit the needs of my entire northern district field staff and work within pre-determined financial boundaries so that the officers were properly equipped to do their job without overspending the budget for those items,” he said. “Upon my appointment as undersheriff, this responsibility, was expanded further by having to make the decisions on where the money went on the scale of all field operations within the county.”
Shepherd said he has also been in charge of grants, developing communication contracts with local fire departments and the Tonto Apache Tribe and law enforcement coverage for the Town of Star Valley.
“Because of this experience in budget management and training, as sheriff, I would not have to hire someone to direct me in the budgetary affairs of the sheriff’s office,” he said.
North vs. South
Asked about the perception in North County that the county spends far more in the south although more than half the population and most county revenues come from the north, both men said that is a tricky question to answer.
Because Globe is the county seat, a number of sheriff’s office operations must be close to other county offices, including administration and jail operations.
Patrol coverage, however, should be based on criminal activity, not geographic area, both said.
“It should be about need,” Stubbs said.
Shepherd said he would put officers where they are needed most in the county. As undersheriff, he analyzed crime trends and recommended where to put resources.
“This analysis with allocations and reallocations was a primary contributing factor in the reduction of crime rates in unincorporated Gila County over the last seven years,” he said.
Debate about crime trends
While Shepherd maintains crime is down for the last seven years, Stubbs says it is up.
“The Armer/Shepherd administration would lead you to believe that crime has gone down,” he said. “But that is because these statistics don’t include cities, towns, and Native American reservations that provide their own law enforcement. That means Globe, Miami, Hayden, Payson, San Carlos Apache, White Mountain Apache and the Tonto Apache nations. Don’t think for a minute that crime in incorporated areas and on the reservations don’t affect the areas that are solely the GCSO’s responsibility.”
Stubbs said he is the best man for the job because he has the passion.
As sheriff, he would be visible, working in both ends of the county and not behind a desk.
Shepherd says he has the experience and a big picture perspective.
“In my view, the position of sheriff is so much more than simply a glorified deputy,” he said. “The sheriff must make informed decisions in such complicated areas as the budget, patrol operations, jail operations, serving the Superior Court, civil process and personnel issues.”
Voters have until 7 p.m. on Aug. 28 to turn in ballots.
• More than 25 years in county law
• Held several positions with the sheriff’s office, from detention officer at both Globe and Payson Jails, patrol deputy, member of the Gila County Task Force and school resource officer. Currently a reserve police officer for the Miami Police Department.
• Education: 1979 graduate of Miami High School. Two credits shy of earning an associate degree from Gila
Pueblo College. Various law enforcement related certifications and trainings.
• More than 28 years in county law enforcement.
• Started with Payson Police Department as a dispatcher and reserve patrol officer. Joined the sheriff’s office in 1984 as a patrol deputy. Moved up through the ranks from detective, sergeant, lieutenant to undersheriff.
• Education: 1979 graduate of Payson High School. Associate degree from Gila Pueblo College, graduate of
Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command and bachelor’s degree in public agency service from Northern Arizona University. More than 1,600 training hours in law enforcement topics.