Sun City Posse's split with MCSO about 'survival' not Penzone, members say

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Board members with the non-profit public safety group are hoping the split with MCSO will boost membership after years of decline. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Board members with the non-profit public safety group are hoping the split with MCSO will boost membership after years of decline. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
“We will be patrolling just like we are now,” said Sun City Posse Commander Mary Heiser. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) “We will be patrolling just like we are now,” said Sun City Posse Commander Mary Heiser. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The Sun City Posse was first recognized by MCSO in 1973. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The Sun City Posse was first recognized by MCSO in 1973. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Although posse members are not sworn officers and the groups are funded privately, volunteers wear official Sheriff’s uniforms and drive Sheriff’s vehicles. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Although posse members are not sworn officers and the groups are funded privately, volunteers wear official Sheriff’s uniforms and drive Sheriff’s vehicles. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Lambin and Heiser said the group's decision to separate from MCSO had been under consideration since 2014. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Lambin and Heiser said the group's decision to separate from MCSO had been under consideration since 2014. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
SUN CITY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Volunteers with the Sun City Posse will patrol their community wearing Maricopa County Sheriff’s uniforms for the final time Tuesday before the group formally ends its four-decade relationship with the department.

Board members with the non-profit public safety group are hoping the split will boost membership after years of decline by easing some of the rigorous training requirements mandated by MCSO.

[ORIGINAL STORY: Sun City Posse to split from MCSO]

Outside of the change in look, they say the public will notice few changes in the services they provide.

“We will be patrolling just like we are now,” said Sun City Posse Commander Mary Heiser.

The Sun City Posse was first recognized by MCSO in 1973. Posse member Tim Lambin said the group will continue to offer block watches, vacation watch programs and a host of other services to the community at no charge after the split.

“Our mission and our responsibilities to the citizens of Sun City remain the same,” he said.

The move comes at a time when the future of the county’s three dozen posses is somewhat uncertain; Sheriff Paul Penzone has instructed the advisory group that shut down Tent City to review the program. The chairman of that group, called SPEAR, acknowledged last month that some groups could be shut down, but in a statement Monday, the department seemed to suggest the goal was to improve the existing program, not end it.

“The Sheriff’s directive is for SPEAR to work with a select group of executive staff and posse members to evaluate and make recommendations to improve all posse practices. The goal is to provide more consistent oversight, support and communication with the various posses that provide exceptional services on behalf of our community,” department spokesman Sgt. Calbert Gillett said via email.

Although posse members are not sworn officers and the groups are funded privately, volunteers wear official Sheriff’s uniforms and drive Sheriff’s vehicles.

At one time during Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s tenure, Arpaio said there were 59 posse groups with a total of 3,000 volunteers. Today, there are an estimated 800 members in 36 posses.

Heiser and Lambin said court-ordered changes in response to the racial-profiling lawsuit against Arpaio contributed to the decline in membership. New posse members must now take 20 hours of “Bias-Free Policing” training, plus 10 hours of refresher training each year.

“We have been included in all of the MCSO training, so there haven't been any distinctions between posse [members] and what they do, and sworn deputies and what they do,” he said.

Lambin said MCSO only offers a few of these training opportunities a year, so new members sometimes have to wait months to take them.

“That's a little difficult when you're recruiting volunteers. To bring them in, get them enthused, and say, ‘You have to wait three or four months before we can start the process,” Lambin said.

The Sun City Posse says the split with the Sheriff’s department has been an amicable one. An MCSO spokesman issued a statement saying, “Sheriff Penzone and MCSO thanks the Sun City Posse for its contributions to keeping the community safe.”

Lambin and Heiser said the group's decision to separate from MCSO had been under consideration since 2014 and downplayed Penzone's role in it, but they said other posses across the county might soon consider a similar move.  

“Most of the posses have seen their numbers go down. So I would think that for survival they might have to do something,” Heiser said.

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