SUN CITY WEST, Ariz. - What was to be a festive celebration of its 35th anniversary Saturday took on a sour note for the Sun City West Posse.
Posse members received notice that the commander suspended operations until further notice.
"Our operations are suspended right now," Posse spokeswoman Jan Vejraska said Monday. "There are no comments we can make right now."
The move stems around the issue of insurance coverage on Posse-owned vehicles.
"The county passed a policy, saying they will no longer cover Posse vehicles because they are owned by the Posse," said Joaquin Enriquez, spokesman for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. He said the policy has been in effect for a while and that the Sheriff’s Office had issued a reminder to the all-volunteer groups.
This has affected a small number of posse patrols, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The department oversees the posse program, which boasts over 50 different posses. The Sun City Posse has suspended use of its patrol cars, instead members are using their private vehicles, according to the group's website.
Deputy Enriquez said individual Posse groups made the decision themselves to stop operations.
"We did not ask them to stand down," deputy Enriquez said. "They said because of this policy we are going to park our cars."
He said Sheriff Joe Arpaio is working with county staff to resolve the issue.
County spokeswoman Cari Gerchick said the county has never provided insurance for private vehicles such as those owned by the Posse. The Sun City West Posse is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization.
She said, however, that the Sheriff’s Office has a policy that states that no Posse vehicle shall have a government-issued plate and that branches must maintain their own insurance for vehicles and equipment.
She said she was baffled by media reports that the county had change its policy on insuring the Posses’ vehicles when it never insured them in the first place.
"I don’t understand what is going on," she said. "I don’t know how this started."
Her understanding was that the Posses are having a difficult time getting private insurance because of the high cost.
The county, she said, is working to help find them insurance.
"Because we work with a lot of different insurance companies, we are trying to help facilitate the Posses getting coverage, not at county expense," she said.
District 4 Supervisor Clint Hickman, who represents Sun City West, said he first got wind of the situation Saturday morning at the posse’s celebration.
"I have always been in support, extremely in support of the posse," he said. "I think it’s a wonderful thing the guys and ladies volunteering their time and effort to keeping the community safe."
That said, Mr. Hickman said he was still on a fact-finding mission before he acts. He said he hopes to schedule a meeting with the county attorney and sheriff early this week.
"The Posse having its cars parked doesn’t do any good," he said.
The Sun City West Posse provides a number of services to the community, including welfare checks and its popular vacation watch program.
Some of what the Posse does:
• The Posse travels about 1,000 miles per day patrolling the streets of Sun City West on four shifts per day, 322,897 were driven in 2013.
•Four cars are out between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., five cars out 6 p.m. and midnight, and one or two cars out midnight and 6 a.m.
• The objective is to cover every street on every sift between 6 a.m. and midnight.
• Responded to 5,192 911 calls, medical emergencies and fire in 2013.
• Provided 19,257 citizen assists, giving directions, providing maps, directing traffic, guarding equipment and assisting at accidents.
• Did 759 welfare checks; a welfare check is when an out-of-town relative is concerned and checking on a resident.
• Do home security audits.
• Vacation Watch, check on residents’ homes while they are away, posse did over 58,000 checks last year.
• Administers a program called WAY, where posse establishes a profile on memory-impaired residents to better help locate them when they get lost.
• Neighborhood Block Watch.
• In 2013, Sun City West Sheriff’s Posse contributed 79,282 hours, all without a penny’s pay.
• A Posse member has no law enforcement authority until enlisted by a deputy, and then the Posse member can do whatever is requested by the deputy.