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Sheriff’s plan calls for 45 new deputies

By BRANDON MESSICK Today’s News-HeraldMay 19, 2019

As Mohave County supervisors gathered on Friday to discuss next fiscal year’s budget, Sheriff Doug Schuster presented the governing board with a plan to enhance county law enforcement over the next decade. But change isn’t going to be easy, or cheap.

Schuster is calling for about 45 new deputy positions, with higher pay, by 2028 – six of which would be added within the next fiscal year. Schuster is also requesting from the county additional vehicles for the sheriff’s office, including new boats to replace the department’s 35-year-old fleet of watercraft. To do this, he’s going to need an estimated budget increase of 3.5 percent each year for the next 10 years.

According to Schuster, his department has long lagged behind national standards for law enforcement. Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster on Friday unveiled a plan to improve his department’s law enforcement operations over the next 10 years. But to do that, he says he’s going to need a bigger budget, starting with a $1.5 million budget increase during this fiscal year, and gradually raising by an average of $937,000 per year over the next decade.

Mohave County is home to about 200,000 residents, and is geographically the fifth largest in the country. It encompasses more land-area than the states of Delaware and New Jersey combined, and according to Schuster, the Mohave County Sheriff’s office employs only 83 deputies to patrol it. Based on Mohave County’s population and national standards, Schuster reported Friday, the county should be employing a minimum of 188 deputies.

Schuster’s plan noted that Mohave is a rural county with limited resources, and not all of his goals could be achieved over the next decade. But his plan proposed on Friday a systemic approach to improve the department’s manpower and deputy salaries.

According to Schuster, Mohave County Sheriff’s deputies receive the lowest starting salaries of any law enforcement agency, countywide. New deputies earn as much as 16 percent less than officers at other local law enforcement agencies, Schuster said, and qualified deputies have been difficult for the department to retain.

The sheriff’s office maintains modern equipment, although Schuster’s proposal expressed concern that the county’s fleet of law enforcement watercraft would eventually need to be replaced. The fleet was purchased through the State Lake Improvement Fund in 1984, which was earmarked as a competitive grant opportunity for ongoing equipment purchases. That funding was swept by the Arizona legislature in 2010, according to Schuster, and the county’s fleet will soon reach the end of its life expectancy as a result. Repair costs for the department’s fleet have increased dramatically, Schuster said, and replacing the department’s fleet will become necessary over the next decade.

The county’s existing radio system is also outdated, according to Schuster. Consisting of a VHF system operating in the two-meter range, the county’s network could be susceptible to catastrophic failure, resulting in months of down time that could present serious public safety and officer safety issues. Schuster is requesting that the county adopt a digital radio system that meets modern Arizona law enforcement standards.

Schuster is also calling for a new sheriff’s substation to replace outdated facilities in Mohave Valley and Lake Havasu City. Earlier this year, Mohave County supervisors explored the proposed new sheriff’s substation, which would have been located at the Franconia traffic interchange on Interstate 40. The construction of that substation, however, would have required a unanimous vote among supervisors to continue a quarter-cent sales tax that was scheduled to expire in November. No action was taken by the Board of Supervisors at that time.

A sheriff’s substation in Beaver Dam, located in Northern Mohave County, is also past-due for replacement, Schuster said. Consisting of a double-wide mobile home that was adapted for law enforcement use, the facility was originally intended to be a temporary building, to eventually be replaced by a permanent substation. It was a plan that never came to fruition, Schuster said. Elsewhere in the county, there are populated areas that have no substations at all, which Schuster says caused prolonged response times.

“This strategic plan outlines a 10-year level of necessary growth within our agency,” Schuster wrote in his proposal. “It is my desire to provide top notch law enforcement and public safety services to our citizens. Law enforcement services are a top priority in Mohave County. It is past time we address these needs in a proactive and forward-thinking manner.”

According to Schuster’s proposal, the sheriff’s office will pursue every available option for outside funding to reduce its reliance on the county’s general fund. The Sheriff’s Office is engaged in 12 ongoing competitive grants that have historically generated as much as $1 million per year for the department’s operations.

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