Sheriff Ponce and former employees weigh in on department financial struggles

UPDATE 3:30pm to add a statement by Sheriff’s Detective Jeremy Johnson (added at bottom below).

Former employees of the La Paz County Sheriff’s Department say management and lack of funding for the department are the reasons they left, coming after after the department’s low salaries were highlighted in a meeting of the Board of Supervisors on June 6th. Sheriff Ponce tells Parker Live the situation is frustrating.

During the meeting’s ‘Call to the Public’, current Sheriff’s Department employees told the Board that their workplace has some of the lowest salaries around for law enforcement agencies, that morale is low, that the situation is unsustainable and that people have left to work elsewhere.

C.J. Markel told the Board that only 6 of the 30 detention officers that he started with are still there and that 64 percent of the detention officers live at home with their parents because they can’t afford to move out. Whitney Lopez, who works in 911 Dispatch, said she knows 10 people who have left the department. Ricardo Rodriquez said there is low staffing causing higher stress, low coverage and low morale. Others used the phrase, “overworked and underpaid.”

Minor responded, saying, “I feel for every person who works for La Paz County Sheriff’s Department. I don’t know how to indicate verbally any more how I support and appreciate the difficult jobs you all do.”

But he said the problem of low county revenue is affecting every department.

“La Paz County has been run very poorly for a very long time. And unfortunately part of the problem has been that when things like this comes up, we just make up money out of the blue and pretend we have money that we don’t have, and then we give raises, and then we dig the hole deeper. So we are on a mission to bring this County out of that hole.”

Minor said he wants to have a work session with the Sheriff, and implied that the department is avoiding structural changes that would pave the way for more equity in the department’s wages.

“One of the things that your Sheriff’s Department needs to address through its management is relooking at the Sheriff’s Department with potential restructure,” Minor told the meeting. “The Sheriff’s Department has been top-heavy for a long time, at least a few sheriffs back.”

At least one former employee agreed with that assessment. The employee told Parker Live that the ratio of supervisors to staff is off.

“The Sheriff’s Department’s ranking officials are living off the backs of its younger workers who don’t make much,” the former employee said. “The administration is notorious for creating positions to give promotions instead of managing its budget to provide to the younger employees who struggle financially and don’t see pay increases or steps within their career. The department gets a lot of funding from grants that require their workforce to burn themselves out to help pay for equipment and overtime. Soon they will lose funding for not having enough staff to work those grants.”

The former employee said that the department recently gave rank to detectives, making them corporals, rather than giving chances to deputies who are lower in the hierarchy.

“The Sheriff, Chief Deputy Sheriff, Commander, Administrative Lieutenant, Boating and Safety Lieutenant, Patrol Lieutenant, Lieutenant, Staff Sergeant and Administrative Secretary are certified peace officers or certified detention officers who have had step increases, while younger employees are forever at a standstill at Step 1 or 2 and get frustrated when they find out fellow coworkers are at higher pay despite their years of service with the department. How did the Sheriff find funds for his supervisors but not his younger employees?”

The employee also told Parker Live that these members of the administration do not step in to help cover districts, despite being certified to do so.

“Why do certified patrol lieutenants and sergeants drive patrol units at the county’s expense but can’t work shift or take calls for service when needed?” the employee asked. “Can you imagine patrolling on bare minimum with hundreds of Hell’s Angels in town but your support staff who are also deputies are nowhere to assist? Can you imagine being a single boat deputy working the infamous Tube Float as a solo officer by yourself on the river? Can you imagine seeing a new deputy being hired for a specialty position within your department without being given the opportunity to test such as the new School Resource Officer position? Can you imagine seeing people being hired who bypassed basic field training and being promoted or working specialty positions?”

Sheriff Ponce spoke with Parker Live Thursday to talk about the issues raised by employees and former employees, and said he largely agrees with them.

“Our pay scales are off. We are the lowest-paid in the county, both Parker and Quartzsite pay more, and we’re on the bottom end of the counties within Arizona. And yet we’ve been asked to cut our budget multiple times, and we have had to do it. The budget is tight countywide, so we’ve cut $500,000, which in turn creates struggles here. Some of our employees have been with the department for 7 years or even 10 years and have never had a cost-of-living increase in the entire time they’ve been here.”

Asked whether he believes the department is “top-heavy”, Ponce said he did not create any new command-level positions, that the current administration structure was in place before he arrived. But he said he agrees that some restructuring could possibly help.

“I’ve been trying to restructure since I got here,” he said. “I believe that the way the department is structured, people could be moved into other areas to facilitate better layers of supervision. I’m trying to do that, but it’s rather difficult in the midst of staffing issues, it makes it hard to maneuver personnel to where they need to be. When someone retires, we can modify, sometimes we can combine positions which I’ve done in many places within this department. I’m looking at all these things.”

Ponce said his biggest frustration was the way the budget constraints affect coverage of the county and staffing around the county’s jurisdiction. He said he doesn’t believe his department is currently able to provide the service citizens deserve. When asked if people in the administrative ranks could step in and help patrol, Ponce said they sometimes do.

“That does happen, I can tell you. Those people have been involved more in helping our deputies, but there are also a lot of responsibilities that are put upon them to get their administrative duties done too.”

Ponce told Parker Live that he has considered and implemented other ways to make the most of the budgets his department has, including combining various funds together to replace aging patrol vehicles so that it doesn’t come out of the county’s general fund – “a substantial savings” – and speaking to U.S. Senators, the U.S. Marshall’s Office and others to try to get back some of the federal inmates that the county can be paid to house.

“When I arrived, we were at maybe ten federal inmates or so, and now we have about thirty,” he said. “Nothing like it used to be many years ago, when we may have had a hundred. But we’ve been trying to keep those lines of communication open where we can.”

Ponce said he welcomes all work sessions with the Board of Supervisors, but he also knows that there is a limit to how much talking can accomplish.

“We all know what the financial status of this county is,” he said. “We can talk but if there’s no money, we’ll have to go without it, and that’s a hard reality.”

In the meantime, a former employee told Parker Live that the situation puts a lot of strain on existing employees of the department.

“Imagine working in 100-degree weather with full gear in a unit that’s blowing hot air and you haven’t had a day off in a week,” the employee said. “It’s physically and mentally exhausting and then you’ll get written up for making an error under conditions without support staff assisting. Imagine getting in trouble for leaving your patrol unit on because you can’t cool down, meanwhile your supervisor is driving a newer unit that has adequate air conditioning to take them to their nine-to-five job and get to sit in a clean office. What’s sad is the employees are accustomed to this and they think this is normal.”

The employee acknowledged the financial constraints countywide are real.

“Every department within La Paz County has a budget. You can’t use funds you don’t have and public servants are no more important than the rest of the county employees who also receive lower pay during times of inflation. I no longer work for the department and I hope to see the change needed and their employees being cared for.”

UPDATE: Statement by Sheriff’s Detective Jeremy Johnson

I read your article and observed numerous false misleading statements from the unidentified former employee who I still can’t understand why they want to be unidentified if they no longer are employed with the La Paz County Sheriff’s Office. What repercussion could they possibly be worried about other then the public knowing the false misleading statements came from that individual. I’d like to address the following false misleading statement, “The former employee said that the department recently gave rank to detectives, making them corporals, rather than giving chances to deputies who are lower in the hierarchy” which came from the unidentified former employee of the La Paz County Sheriff’s Office and was included in your article. It pertains not only to me but the other hardworking Detective’s assigned to the Criminal Investigations Unit and Narcotics Task Force who serve this county. This former unidentified employee has either never worked in the investigations unit in any capacity and/or clearly has no understanding of rank structure or the inner workings of the investigations division.

Since the history of the La Paz County Sheriff’s Office specifically, there has been detectives employed by the department and assigned to the investigations division. The position of detective has been a tested, ranking position since at minimum during former Sheriff Hal Collette’s first term in 2001, which was 21 years ago. As far as insignia on uniforms goes and establishing rank, that was introduced in 2019 during the middle of former Sheriff William Risen’s administration which was 3.5 years ago. These shoulder patches with no monetary increase in salary were used as insignia on uniforms of detectives which are rarely worn being we are often dressed in business, business casual and plain clothes attire.

They were only introduced after Sheriff Risen and former La Paz County Sheriff’s Office Captain Curt Bagby created a corporal position in the patrol division. These corporals were given a rank above deputy with no monetary increase and would act in a supervisory role in patrol in the absence of a patrol sergeant or were delegated supervisory duties. Under the previous administration their was four corporal positions created. One of those corporals left the department to a much larger law enforcement agency for more money, that position was never filled under the previous administration. One of the other corporal’s was fired under the previous administration and that position was also not filled under the previous administration. The two other corporals were promoted to patrol sergeant, one under the previous administration and the other under the current administration and neither were filled under both administrations.

A detective not only at the La Paz County Sheriff’s Office but also in majority of Law Enforcement agencies across the nation the merit ranking system is as follows: deputy/officer, corporal, detective, sergeant, lieutenant, etc. When a detective responds to a crime scene, he or she is in charge and responsible for that scene. He or she is not under the supervision or directive of a patrol sergeant and certainly not a corporal or deputy. The former administration refused to acknowledge the rank structure and in doing so created numerous issues over and over with in the patrol and investigations division. This issues carried over into the current administration under Sheriff Ponce, which he corrected and in doing so upset some of these “former employees”.

Several deputies had been promoted under the previous administration and having only 3-5 years total of sworn experience handling preliminary investigations or simple calls for service. None of them had ever been assigned to the investigations unit handling major violent crimes which this county has seen an increase of. Just last year alone we had 4 different homicides in this county. These inexperienced supervisors have never worked these in-depth cases which includes but not limited to, physical and electronic evidence collection, crime scene processing, both basic and advanced forensic interviewing, providing expert testimony in a jury trial setting, very detailed report writing, etc. They were promoted to a patrol sergeant position and were put into positions of supervising and guiding deputies who the citizens interact with in this county on a daily basis. In the above statements alone, you can see where the problem lies.

But again, it goes back to the money topic, if the Sheriff’s Office was able to pay its employees more money we would have a better selection pool of supervisors to choose from because we would attract and retain long term employees”.

– Detective Jeremy Johnson

Previous stories:

2017: Department running on ‘bare minumum’

2017: Sheriff Risen, Captain Bagby on reduced funding

2017: Inside La Paz County Jail

2019: On boat patrol with La Paz County Sheriff

28 comments

  1. It’s been that way when I worked there back in the late 80 it will e er change

  2. The same goes for Public Works, Park Rangers & The golf course. These people work their Butts off in this 120 degree heat in the sun all day, NO AIR CONDITIONING. They are the ones that deserve this also, I ber they sure do wish they were in Air Conditioning all day.

  3. It seems as though this county could use a good forensic audit!

  4. Yet the county admin makes $120k a year with not even a college degree. And a dog catcher can make over $56k a year. Hmmm🤔

  5. Yet a dog catcher can start at $56k a year in La Paz county and that’s justifiable 🤔

  6. There should be a list of who in the county has been given raises in the last 5-10 years, the proof is in the pudding.

  7. Classic red county problems. They all complain but never want to pay any taxes. You get what you give. Lol

  8. This article is full of shit. Employees can’t afford to live on their own yet I work at bs jobs and am doing fine. Stop hiring mofo who want jobs and actually want careers. Money shouldn’t be an issue if this is your passion. 🤨😂

  9. Detective Johnson you’re a real one! 🙌🏽

  10. What happened to those millions allocated for the County “slush fund” created by approving Prop. 401 a few years back? The County had excess money and could not, under state law spend it without a public vote on the subject. I was against this proposition because it did not actually designate specific uses for that money, rather it was an attempt to rob the piggy bank and get away with it.

  11. The Sheriff’s Office needs to trim the fat at the top. With Kubacki gone there is fat trimmed and if they get rid of Irwin more fat will be trimmed. It is all about managing the budget by trimming the fat.

  12. We need a new sheriff! Joshua Banuelos for la paz county sheriff

  13. Those propositions that we begged you not to vote for, that got passed, you now can see what we tried to tell you: they were for one purpose and one purpose only and that was to funnel MORE money into the pockets of the elite, as someone said a certain person’s salary. And about salary: Take a look at some people’s benefits 401k, pension, vacation pay. I remember one company I worked for managed to hide their outrageous wages (for the elite upperclass clique of course) by giving them vacation pay bonus for every hour they worked–meaning on paper they were making 10 dollars an hour but in real life were making thirty. Don’t just look at their wages but look at EVERYTHING. And oh yes the insurance–the last job I worked at health insurance paid less than 1/2 and they wouldn’t even pay for blood draw for my labs 28 dollars I had to pay out of pocket I wanted to cry but laughed instead it was so ridiculous. Keep on voting yes for everything that comes along folks and keep ignoring us that try to share what we know but get ignored and ridiculed.

  14. Just close it and let the highway patrol cover their area. La Paz isn’t that large

  15. Bet that mrap they have would bring in a few bucks

  16. Don’t let this distract you from the fact that Hector is going to be running three Honda civics with spoon engines, and on top of that, he just went into Harry’s and bought three t66 turbos with nos, and a motec exhaust system.

  17. Low key Parker Pd is kinda mid tho, fr.

  18. Concerned citizen

    To be honest Sheriff Ponce is trying his best to manage the minimal budget given to him by the county as best he can and still provide the best service to the residents of La Paz County as possible. His staff works hard to provide quality service and yes, they do work A LOT. but they do it for the people!
    Regarding the equipment being old and worn down. Sure is! But I praise the administration and the staff at public works for working diligently to make everything work as best as possible. To keep units running even after another agency has already retired it for mileage.
    With regard to Lieutenants and sergeants assisting in the field I can tell you that they do. One of the sheriffs 2 sergeants is ALWAYS in the field with his people and will assist in any way possible. Sergeant Rodriguez I applaud you for leading from the front.
    Now, Is the department a little too top heavy? Yes, but you can’t run around firing or demoting people for no reason just to cut down the budget. Things don’t work that way.
    Detective Johnson was dead on in his statements. The anonymous former employee is anonymous for a reason. Mostly due to false statements and alternate motives I assume.

    There are a few things I would like to address from the comments section:

    Regarding someone’s comments on equipment like the MRAP – Most of the sheriffs office equipment come from grants or special programs where it costs little to nothing. So relax. As well as new specialty positions that truly nobody else wanted to work. And again, did not cost the sheriffs office anything.

    If you think DPS can provide law enforcement services at the same level as your sheriffs office you obviously have not worked with them as a law enforcement officer.

    Getting rid of just commander Irwin will not do much to solve the issue

    Maybe a forensic audit of the county’s finances will help!

    In closing, The most frustrating part is the lack of support from the board of supervisors. Instead of doing everything possible to assist the sheriffs office and work with them, they give a cold shoulder to all the sheriff and civilian personnel who addressed them at the last board meeting. Comments like”next” and “anyone else” spoke loudly of your concern to the issues Deuce Minor, and displayed your true feelings.
    In addition, you blame Sheriff Ponce and tell him to restructure his department like he can just snap his fingers and make things magically different.
    How about you take some constructive criticism and implement new ways to increase retinue for the county instead of forcing all of its residents to live mediocre lifestyles at best, struggle with aging equipment, operate in run down office spaces all while other counties throughout the state are growing and thriving.
    This county has so much potential being right on I10 Hwy 95 and right on the river, yet you take advantage of nothing and allow it to just get by.

    The residents of this county deserve a higher quality of life, protection and security. The employees of this county deserve better opportunities and a better quality of life.

    Here is one great example to prove my statement: Deuce Minor, A suggestion was brought to your attention to implement a small gas tax to the fuel stations along I10 to fund the county or public safety within the county or all of the above. You turned that idea down. Why???!! When thousands or hundreds of thousands of people travel through our county in a daily basis, even if the tax was 3 cents a gallon, imagine the revenue.
    Or how about allowing bigger businesses to build warehouses / distribution centers in the Salome area just north or south of I10 where it’s just open land. Imagine the revenue and job opportunities that it could bring to your residents. How their quality of life could change.

    You sir are failing not only the Sheriffs office but the people of this county as a whole! Maybe YOU need to be restructured.

  19. Suzanne Wehman should of been done long ago. They have always hired rejects for count administrators and finance directors that have never been held accountable for all the robbing Peter to pay Paul. Now, we have one person doing both jobs, no conflict of interest there right. Maybe Megan can get this county back on track. But, with two board members that have worn out their welcome it’s highly unlikely.

  20. James Gray do you even know how large this county is? Evidently you don’t, nor do you realize DPS tucks themselves in before midnight. Remember La Paz is a rule desolate area. Not like Maricopa county.

  21. Glenda Gustin excuse me, many non law enforcement companies offer 401K and retirement. And what’s wrong with being hired by a company or agency that has the capability to offer benefits such as those? I work for one and am dam glad I do. Social security isn’t all I have to look forward to when I retire.

  22. They have NO money. I actually feel sorry for those officers. I saw one in a gas station and his uniform looked like it was 20 years old. It was faded had a rip in his sleeve and his car was so filthy I offered $10 for him to drive it through the car wash. I work nights and I see plenty of DPS and state troopers on the highway.

  23. James Gray DPS in La Paz county after a certain hour are off duty!!! The only reason they may be out is because Sheriff department had to call them for an accident on their highway. They are not 24/7 in La Paz.

  24. Same ol crap, just like hiring fired officers from another department in the county. SMDH

  25. Melissa Diaz Good day, How are you and your family doing today, your post are wonderful, but we’re not friend on Facebook, I sent you a request but it didn’t go through, please send me a request or send me a message on messenger let’s be friends if you don’t mind.

  26. Sabrina Pecina Matta Good day, How are you and your family doing today, your post are wonderful, but we’re not friend on Facebook, I sent you a request but it didn’t go through, please send me a request or send me a message on messenger let’s be friends if you don’t mind.

  27. Suzanne Wehman would of been done had the previous Sheriff mot of given Ron Drake an ultimatum. So much $$$ going to who knows where with him and Terry Kukeymeyer for the whole time they were working for the county.!

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