For awhile there, all people could talk about was impeachment. Then people began arguing over COVID-19. Now the latest debate to divide the country is whether or not law enforcement agencies should be defunded.
There are groups of people in the U.S. who believe police brutality and racial inequalities in policing would simply go away if law enforcement agencies had their funding withdrawn.
Here in Graham County, officials don’t see it happening and a small random sampling of local residents don’t seem to think it’s a good idea anyway.
When Graham County Sheriff Preston “P.J” Allred was asked about defunding the police, his response was that the sheriff department had little funding to begin with.
The most expensive aspects of the department are employee pay and vehicle maintenance. Allred said the Graham County Sheriff Office currently employs 23 certified deputies, 37 to 38 detention officers and 13 dispatchers.
“Sure we have our new jail, but our voters decided on it. It was up to the voters of Graham County,” said Allred. “To defund the law enforcement, where are they going to take the money from? What are they trying to do? I’m not talking about the world of law enforcement out there, I’m not talking about other parts of the country, I don’t know what they get. But I know here, for us at the Graham County Sheriff Office, we’re not getting a whole bunch of newfangled toys.”
Allred said the starting pay for a Graham County deputy is approximately $43,600 a year. He has had deputies leave the department in the search for higher paying opportunities in the past. A detention officer receives an approximate salary of $32,000 a year while dispatchers receive $29,500 a year.
Jim Warren was sitting down with his family at Ginaveve’s Market Place on Thursday for lunch. When asked about defunding the police, Warren said he felt more money spent on law enforcement training was a better option.
“I think some of those people need to be re-schooled because local police chiefs tend to be people who have been in the community for years, years, and years. Maybe they aren’t in tune with what the nation and the state expects,” said Warren.
Safford Police Chief Glen Orr said defunding the police department would mean losing the assistance of the police department in areas people may not expect.
“We answer lots of calls and we wear lots of hats that probably, when law enforcement started way back when, was not something that should have been law enforcement’s job,” said Orr. “We deal with the homeless, the mentally ill, civil standbys, civil calls, private property acts. Things that daily occur.”
A civil standby is when a law enforcement officer accompanies an individual to a location to retrieve the person’s belongings or when officers stand by as parents exchange children. The element of civil standby may no longer be possible if police funding was cut, Orr said.
“If we cut funds and do something else with them, we’re going to have to look at all those hats the police wear and say: ‘What hats are we not wearing anymore?’ Because we have to deal with the criminal aspect. Number one is public safety and dealing with the major crimes,” said Orr. “We have two main things money is spent on: salaries and vehicles. So if you cut funds, the first thing to go is vehicles and then people. So we have less people doing the job, so what things are we not going to be able to cover?”
Courtney Hansen, a Thatcher resident and teacher, said she supports the local police and sheriff office.
“They’re risking their lives on our behalf. The least we could do is respect them, and I’m grateful for them that they come to us we call 9-1-1. They’re there to help us, they are,” said Hansen. “I understand there are things going on in other parts of the country and it’s unfortunate and it’s despicable but that’s not everybody.”
Hansen said taking funds from the police for other aspects of local government would not be the answer. As a teacher, Hansen acknowledged education is drastically underfunded, but taking money from the police department to fund education would not be a good idea, she said.
Pima Police Chief Diane Cauthen stressed education and training instead of defunding.
“If you take money away from them you’re going to get less training, and that is not the answer. More training is the answer, and we’re very fortunate around here,” said Cauthen. “They say policies need to be changed but most of the policies around here, I can’t speak for their policies, but I know our policies, we don’t use holds like that.”
Cauthen said this is a hard time for law enforcement, but it isn’t anything they can’t get through.
Frances JoLee, owner of the Crafts with Class business in Safford said she was not in favor of defunding the police simply because she didn’t trust the government to use the money properly.
“This community is backwards and messed up in so many ways. I would be hard pressed to take money from this for that because they say that’s where it’s going and I’ve seen it not,” said JoLee. “I’ve been here my whole life, I’ve watched it.”
Clayton Hines, 18, a student at Mt. Graham High School, said he’d like funding used to help local schools and youth especially. However, since the Gila Valley community is so small, Hines said taking money from the police may not be the best idea.
“If they were to take money from anywhere, take it from somewhere richer and put it to things that will bring the youth to a greater standpoint so maybe this community can thrive,” said Hines. “In a state of emergency, defunding the officers, sometimes wouldn’t be the best thought because they have to be paid. They have to do their job. If there are other areas that can be talked about to delegate money from I would be supportive of it to help our youth.”