Originally Published: December 29, 2011 9:56 p.m.
PRESCOTT - In an effort to improve response times to calls in remote areas of Yavapai County, Sheriff Scott Mascher on Tuesday will ask the Board of Supervisors to approve a stipend program that would pay deputies and sergeants who live in the outlying parts of the county an extra $400 a month, for a total of $29,000 for the first half of 2012.
A report written by YCSO Capt. David Rhodes outlined a need for the stipends.
Rhodes said that prior to 2005, deputies were required to live near their assigned patrol area, which created several problems, including deputies wanting transfers to other areas or law enforcement agencies.
"Better candidates often avoided the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office all together for fear of being assigned to an outlying area," he wrote.
After 2005, the rules were changed to allow deputies to live anywhere in the county, no matter where they were assigned to work.
Rhodes' study showed that in August, just 15 of 124 deputies or sergeants lived in areas outside Prescott, Prescott Valley or Cottonwood. Four of those 15 lived in Bagdad.
That adds up to a lot of miles just to get to work, said Rhodes: 355,320 in one year alone, or more than 10 percent of the YCSO's total mileage.
It also created "extremely delayed" response times, he said, and "numerous complaints" from community members, who, he wrote, felt they were "being policed by a deputy with little knowledge of the area."
So, in September, a residency requirement was once again imposed. Existing staff was not required to move, but new hires must live in their assigned area. Once again, Rhodes said, the same issues cropped up, including the extra expenses associated with living outside a metropolitan area.
Couple that with the fact that YCSO pays less than many other agencies, and "the best recruits...usually have the option of choosing to work at an agency without these challenges," said Rhodes.
To remedy that problem, Mascher wants to pay each deputy and sergeant living in an outlying area an extra $400 a month.
"It gives the deputies an incentive to stay there and become a part of the community," he said.
Rhodes identified specific areas to qualify for the stipend: Seligman and Ash Fork north of Drake; Yarnell; Bagdad; and the entire South East Area Command, which encompasses the Black Canyon City area.
"Each of these areas," he wrote, "have a driving distance of at least 25 miles one way... to and from... shopping, medical facilities, schools, and spousal employment."
Mascher's proposal would start payments on Jan. 1, halfway through the fiscal year, and would cost $29,000 for the nine deputies who would currently qualify.
For fiscal years 2012-2013 and beyond, the price tag could be as high as $180,000 a year if every deputy lived in their assigned area; however, Rhodes pointed out, "a number of deputies assigned to the Seligman/Ash Fork area may still live in Chino Valley."
Mascher pointed out that the program, even if fully staffed, would save money, because the mileage currently paid for deputies to drive to their assigned areas costs the YCSO about $202,000 a year.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Tom Thurman, District 2, is a supporter of the proposal.
"I think it's a great idea," he said. "It makes the deputies a local presence in the smaller communities," and will allow them to be much more familiar with the residents.
That's Mascher's plan, too. "It's a big part of community policing," he said. "We want to get those (deputies) assigned to rural areas living out there."