The race for Gila County’s sheriff comes down to a man who says he has the experience and a man who says he has the heart.
Former undersheriff Adam Shepherd has the upper hand when it comes to administrative and leadership experience, but former deputy Craig Jones says he has the people skills to turn around an office reportedly struggling with morale.
Although friends, the men differ on how best to run an office and jail that eats up a third of the county’s budget.
Jones promises change and improved service.
“I feel the people deserve better service than what they are getting from the sheriff’s office and if I can give them better service and the officers better training,” he said. “I don’t think he (Shepherd) is going to change anything, I think he is satisfied with the way things are and I am not.”
Shepherd says he is satisfied, but wants to make things even better.
“That is assuming there is some problem with the same old show and I don’t see it that way,” Shepherd said. “The efficiency of the sheriff’s office, as far as the size of it, the amount of money you have to spend, the type of services that you provide– those are very difficult to do under the circumstances we have had to work under.”
Circumstances include drastic budget cuts that have severely crippled programs, including the office’s narcotics task force, which has nearly dissolved. Funding cuts also put an end to a program that put deputies in county schools and slashed training and equipment budgets.
Both men say they want to get these programs back on track.
“These vital programs must continue to survive at least to the level that funding in other areas can be re-purposed to keep them alive, or outside funding can be secured,” Shepherd said. “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.”
Jones said he also wants to put more officers back on the drug force. The force once had seven full-time officers. Today, it has only two from the sheriff’s office.
“I know it is a money issue, but we need to work harder to get that funding,” Jones said.
Another area that isn’t getting any cheaper to run is the jails.
Before the walls come crashing down
Most residents don’t have contact with the jail and therefore don’t realize how old and inefficient they are, Shepherd said.
While voters struck down efforts to build new facilities several years ago, both men say the jails desperately need modernizing.
And beyond the four walls, Jones says it needs new management.
For years, Jail Commander Major Jim Eskew has kept watch over both the Payson and Globe jail facilities.
While Shepherd credits Eskew with meeting and exceeding national jail standards, Jones said it is time to replace Eskew.
“I feel he has done a job to the best of his ability, but this is one change I feel is due,” Jones said.
Shepherd said he was surprised to hear Jones take this opinion.
“The quality of jail management has improved over the last several years,” he said. “The jail commander is a large contributor of setting standards and a jail management policy.”
While the men clearly differ on who should run the jails, both agree it is high time to modernize both facilities.
“A jail that is not modern costs you more money than it should because you need more people to run it,” Shepherd said.
The design of both facilities requires more employees to oversee inmates.
The Globe jail, built in the 1970s, is laid with two linear hallways of cells angling out of a command center.
The Payson jail is more of a box. Both are inefficient because staff cannot see all inmates from the command center. Modern jail design arranges cellblocks in a circle with staff sitting in the middle where they can see everyone.
Shepherd proposes turning at least one of the cellblock rows in Globe into a circle design.
Although it would cost a lot, it would be cheaper than tearing down the whole jail and redoing the kitchen, intake area, etc.
Doing so would cut down on the number of employees needed, which would trim costs long term.
“Personnel costs us over and over again,” Shepherd said. “Where you buy brick and mortar once. It would be a big undertaking, but it could be retrofitted for less than it would cost if ripped down.”
Jones wasn’t as specific regarding his plan to improve the jails, but said he supported upgrading both.
“I am going to work very hard to improve the jails,” he said. “I know we can’t move it, but I would like to modernize it.”
Shepherd said he is open to putting a jail improvement tax measure back on the ballots if the county board of supervisors supported the idea.
Voters would have to approve any major jail improvements.
In Payson, a new jail is badly overdue, both men said.
“When I came to work for the sheriff’s office (in the 80s) that jail was closed by the federal government,” Shepherd said.
The government closed it after several inmates died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Reportedly, the heaters were on and the ventilation system wasn’t working properly. Although they redid the ventilation system, they left the rest of the Payson jail alone – and that is how it sits today, Shepherd said.
While fixing the jail is cost prohibitive, there are other ways to cut the budget.
One way is to limit the number of trips transporting inmates from Globe to Payson. That would be hard, though, because a judge is required to see an inmate within 24 hours of their arrest. And it has to be in the city where they were arrested.
Shepherd said the only true solution is building a bigger Payson facility that can handle dangerous inmates and those with medical issues.
Jones said another option is not filling the jails with minor offenders.
Although domestic and dangerous criminals should be jailed, someone found with a small of marijuana shouldn’t be thrown in jail, he said.
“If they have a tiny amount of weed they are going to be cited, I not going to fill my jails with people like that, we don’t have room,” he said. “Some people get arrested and put in jail for a warrant for not paying a traffic ticket and we don’t have space for it.”
Shepherd said it is too risky to pick and choose who gets arrested. He supports the current policy.
Both men said they don’t support the state’s new voter-approved medical marijuana law, but said they will uphold the law.
Shepherd said although he didn’t vote for it, “as far as law is concerned I will follow the law.”
Jones said he still didn’t understand how the law went into effect when federal law clearly bans marijuana use.
“I am afraid it will get out of hand,” he said.
Still, Jones said he would not fight the issue.
The courts trampled another controversial bill, SB 1070.
Shepherd said he supported most of the bill because it required officers who suspect someone might be in the country illegally to detain them and seek to confirm their status. The court threw out core provisions of the state law, like the requirement for people to carry picture identification and penalties for officers who didn’t make stops to check the status of suspects. However, the US Supreme Court decision left in place a legal authority to check immigration status for people detained on other grounds – so long as the immigration status check doesn’t extend the time the officer holds the person once he resolves any other problems.
Since federal immigration officials generally cannot respond quickly to an immigration status request, the restrictions mean local police will likely only complete a status check on someone for whom they had enough evidence to hold them for a long period on some other crime. That means in practical terms, the law hasn’t changed much.
“Technically, even though we believe they are illegal they really do have the rights afforded to every citizen until they have proven that they don’t,” Shepherd said.
Maintaining a good relationship with immigration officials is key.
Several years ago things got bad when immigration officials rarely came to pick up detainees. After talking with various federal immigration supervisors, things got better, Shepherd said.
Jones said he would make sure officers did not engage in racial profiling, by conducting immigration status checks or making stops simply because someone is Hispanic.
“We can still ask for ID and that is what we are going to do,” he said, “but my officers are not going to profile, they will not.”
Drinking off the job
Recently, the office came under fire when an off-duty sergeant was called to help on a high-speed chase.
The issue: the sergeant had had a few drinks with dinner at home before he got the call.
Although sheriff policy dictates that officers can determine if they are fit for duty, it stimulates that they let a supervisor know.
This sergeant failed to do that, which drew a reprimand – but no lost pay or serious charges.
Jones says he will repeal the controversial policy and bar officers from responding if they’ve been drinking, even if they feel fit for duty and inform their superiors. He said the current policy carries too much liability.
“I won’t hold it against officers if they had a couple beers and couldn’t come out, but I don’t want them to come out there,” he said. “We have other officers available.”
Shepherd said he would keep the policy, but enforce it better.
“We have that policy because we are always limited on officers,” he said. “That is why we let them take home vehicles and cell phones, so they can respond if something like this happens.”
Shepherd said that means trusting an officer’s judgment.
“All you have is their judgment and they should be experts at it,” he said.
Jones said the risk is too high.
“Why take that chance?” he said.
Jones said his easygoing attitude will bring morale up.
“They are all good guys and I have worked with them, but they need new direction and I know they will do the job it is just up to me to get them motivated and get the training they need.”
Shepherd said morale has taken a tumble, but that is primarily due to the uncertainly that swirls around elections.
Other issues that affect morale include training, pay and equipment issues.
Because the county can’t afford to pay as well as Valley agencies, it frequently loses good deputies.
Shepherd said he would work to improve equipment and training, but said it is unlikely they can increase pay much.
“I am always fighting for better equipment and pay,” he said.
Craig agreed that the pay isn’t greatest, so treating officers right is critical.
“I want to give them that training so that we can keep them and keep them happy,” he said.
Overall, Jones says he is the right man for the job because his heart is in it.
“I really care about this county,” he said. “I want it from my heart more than he does I feel and I am going to make the changes that he is not.”
Shepherd said voters should choose him because he has the upper level management experience and education.
• 23 years in county law enforcement.
• Worked seven years with Globe
Police Department, a year with the
Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses
and Control, and four years with the
Department of Public Safety. With the
Gila County Sheriff’s Office, Jones
worked three years as a reserve and
eight years as a full-time deputy.
• Education: High school diploma and
some college courses.
• 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 and lieutenant
• Education: 1979 graduate of Payson
High School. Associate degree from
Gila Pueblo College; graduate of
Northwestern University School of
Police Staff and Command; bachelor’s
degree in public agency service from
Northern Arizona University.