With vacancies to fill and changes to make just a month after taking office, Gila County Sheriff Adam Shepherd is still settling into what he calls a “hornet’s nest.”
“It is amazing how much people can wait and dump on you when you are the new guy,” said Shepherd, who won the top job in November after decades in lower-ranking positions.
Topping Shepherd’s list is dealing with more than a dozen vacancies, appointing a new administrative team, including a replacement for outgoing jail commander Jim Eskew, firearm training and beefing up courtroom safety.
“That is as far as I got so far,” he said, adding there are a number of long-term projects.
So far, Shepherd has promoted Task Force Commander Johnny Sanchez to chief deputy sheriff and Detention Officer Lt. Justin Solberg to jail captain. That still leaves three other high-ranking positions open.
Shepherd takes over from John Armer, who retired after 12 years as sheriff. As Armer’s undersheriff for seven years, Shepherd says he understands how things have been done, but has a few new ideas on making them better.
Getting staff on board may take time, but Shepherd said he has welcomed suggestions and so far hasn’t been disappointed.
A number of employees have already spoken with him about possible changes. Because he plans to evenly split his time between Globe and Payson, he expects to hear more ideas.
Nearly the entire upper level administrative team left around the same time as Armer, including Chief Deputy Tom Melcher, Eskew and Chief Administrative Officer Claudia Dalmolin. While rumors swirled around the circumstances around some of those vaccines, Shepherd said he is moving forward.
Shepherd scrapped all pending promotions “just because I don’t know what is going on, I haven’t been there in 10 months and I don’t know where they are at and it is not that I don’t trust anybody or anything like that, it is just we need to wipe the slate clean and start fresh.”
He said one of Sanchez’s duties as chief deputy is hiring and promoting.
Meanwhile, Shepherd still has several spots to fill.
After a little begging, Shepherd convinced Eskew to stay on a few more months to find and train his replacement. It looks like newly appointed Solberg could be Eskew’s replacement.
Shepherd plans to leave the undersheriff desk empty until all other positions are filled. He said lieutenants have done a good job covering that gap since he left 10 months ago.
That means he still has to help pick a task force commander and a chief administrative officer or bureau commander. Dalmolin had held the position for years, helping oversee the sheriff’s office budget, grants, payroll, personnel, records, dispatch and administration.
Shepherd said it would be no easy task replacing Dalmolin because of her skill set. “It is not just something that everyone knows off the street,” he said. “I am looking outside the agency, but not outside of the county.”
Changes in dispatch
Shepherd almost immediately restructured dispatch. Instead of dispatchers answering to the chief deputy administrator, they now follow a chain of command similar to that in patrol.
Yvette Baxley is the new 911 dispatch supervisor, overseeing as many as 20 staffers in both Globe and Payson at any one time.
Shepherd said the change just makes sense since dispatchers work with the patrol side more often than administration.
That means the new chief deputy will no longer supervise dispatch, giving them more time to focus on other tasks.
While Shepherd says Baxley is doing a good job in her new role, he said he realizes she needs help.
There are as many as 18 vacancies in the office, primarily in dispatch and the jail.
“It is a problem, you better believe it is a problem,” he said.
Recruiting and keeping people in these positions has never been easy, he said.
It is especially difficult in dispatch because the position has many responsibilities, which can be overwhelming for a new person.
As the new sheriff, Shepherd said he has been mostly welcomed.
“Of course everybody has got their own ideas especially after an election where there were four candidates, but beyond that I think my previous work relationships with most of them has helped that,” he said.
Overseeing 160 positions, Shepherd said he could take some time to meet everyone, but he is keeping his door open. He said he “encourages dialogue” because “they know how to do their job and they know what would make it better. Just because we have always done it a certain way is not going to be the paradigm anymore. I encourage them to try new ways of doing things and if it doesn’t work, trust me I am the first one who will reverse a bad decision if that is the way it turns out to be.”
Shepherd said he anticipates a good working relationship with new County Attorney Bradley Beauchamp. This is the first time both have held public office.
They have already met several times and agree a key issue facing the county is drug enforcement.
“He has got kind of a unique knack coming from the defense side of things for understanding the prosecution side,” he said. “Most defense attorneys just think that the cops are in the way, but now he can’t be on that side of the fence. It is an interesting dynamic.”
Courtroom and jail safety
Shepherd said beefing up security in both Payson and Globe is crucial, since the buildings lack metal detectors, cameras or barriers. “Security everywhere is lacking,” he said. “There are small things we could do that don’t cost a lot of money.”
In addition to the courtrooms, the office needs to deal with jail security.
The county exposes itself to risk every time it transports an inmate from Globe to Payson or vice versa. And those trips happen at least once a day.
Shepherd said the potential for accidents or someone deliberately causing an accident to reach an inmate is high. The only long-term solution is building a new justice facility in Payson that can handle inmates.
While a new facility could be years down the road, specialized firearm training is expected to start within a few months.
After the recent school shootings, training Gila County officers to respond in a similar situation was brought up. The training deals with an active shooter in a crowded situation, such as a classroom filled with children.
Shepherd said most cops have a hard time even thinking about having to shoot into a crowd of kids at an assailant, but it may be the only way to save their lives.
“They might not feel comfortable about it, but all officers should know how to do it.”
The GCSO maintains school resources in Pine-Strawberry, Tonto Basin, Miami and Hayden.
While all officers must take the training, what gun they learn with could vary wildly.
Currently, officers are given a stipend to buy a gun, free to choose which firearm they prefer.
This is something Shepherd would like to change. “We end up with a mishmash of guns,” he said. “I think it is time to have the discussion. We need to be in control of issuing what they carry, how they carry it and in the long run it is a lot more economical.”
Shepherd would also like to change how the office pays deputies back for the equipment they buy. Right now, each deputy gets $50 a month to cover the cost of their uniform and firearm. New officers must shell out money for their equipment upfront, with the sheriff’s office only providing patches.
Shepherd said $50 often does not cover their costs. Shepherd suggested giving each officer a lump sum and then $50 a month.