By Ethan McSweeney
Candidates for Pinal County Sheriff and Pinal County Attorney took part in a debate at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center on Saturday morning to address county issues and the current officeholders for those positions ahead of the August primary election.
Republicans Mark Lamb and Steve Henry took the stage alongside Democrats Kaye Dickson and Kevin Taylor at the debate that was sponsored by the Maricopa Chamber of Commerce, the Maricopa Monitor, InMaricopa and the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center. The Saturday morning debates also featured candidates for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District and Pinal County Board of Supervisors District 4.
For the County Attorney’s race, defense attorney Kent Volkmer was the only candidate to take part in the debate, with incumbent Attorney Lando Voyles not attending Saturday.
Pinal County Sheriff
In the Sheriff’s race, candidates discussed staffing issues and body cameras within the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. They also voiced some criticism for Paul Babeu, the county’s current Sheriff.
Babeu is not seeking re-election for the post, instead running for the Republican nomination in the 1st Congressional District.
Lamb, a deputy in the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, said he believes the politics that exist in the Sheriff’s Office now have affected the morale of deputies.
“I want to restore that back to just focusing on law enforcement, protecting you as the people, doing what we can to foster a good environment for businesses and people to move in to the county,” Lamb said.
“I’m going to do everything I can do to remove that political side [of the Sheriff’s position],” he added.
When asked, Lamb later said in the debate he believed Pinal County is safer since Babeu took office, but that “we still have work to do.”
Henry, who serves as chief deputy in the Sheriff’s Office and is backed by Babeu, said he wasn’t concerned by the Pinal County Deputies Association not endorsing him. The association endorsed Lamb and Dickson for the primary race.
“We have mutual issues that we talk about and other issues that we disagree on,” Henry said. “It’s just a matter of the course of everyday business, and that doesn’t go away. It doesn’t matter if the endorsement is there or not.”
Henry said more staffing is the most significant need the Sheriff’s Office has right now. About half of the county’s population, located outside municipalities that have their own police departments, is policed by PCSO.
“We need people,” Henry said. “Right now in San Tan Valley, there are 95,000 people there and we police that with 40 cops.”
Dickson, who previously worked in PCSO for decades and as the director of Pinal County Animal Care and Control, said that as Sheriff she would cooperate with a staffing study from the Pinal County Board of Supervisors to see how to effectively use officers around the county. Babeu has not cooperated with supervisors over the staffing study.
“It’s not always just about putting officers where it’s the most populated areas,” she said.
Taylor, who runs a private detective agency, said there are too many deputies focused on Saddlebrooke and San Tan Valley, which he said don’t need as much attention as they currently have.
On the use of body cameras in PCSO, Henry said he supported the use of them in theory, but practically they cost too much to maintain.
“What people don’t understand … is that the cost is so prohibitive that with the current financial status we are in this county, we can’t do it,” he said.
Dickson suggested RICO funds, which law enforcement agencies generate as a result of asset forfeiture, could be used to fund body cameras.
“Those cameras create transparency and trust in government,” she said.
Taylor, who previously ran for sheriff in 2012, said the fact that, unlike the other candidates for the office, he doesn’t have a position in the Sheriff’s Office puts him at an advantage.
“I’m coming new with new ideas, with fresh ideas and right now I owe nobody in Pinal County any favors,” he said.
Dickson also said she would support working with the state’s Border Strike Force, which Gov. Doug Ducey created last year. Some border county sheriffs have come out in opposition to the new force.
“I believe that if the governor wants to step up to the plate and help protect our state, that that’s a good thing,” Dickson said. “We should take advantage of that.”
Pinal County Attorney
With incumbent Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles not in attendance, his Republican primary challenger Volkmer took his time on stage to criticize him on issues ranging from accountability to conviction rates.
Volkmer called into question the office’s accountability with Voyles campaigning together with Henry for county attorney and sheriff, respectively.
“If an officer is accused of committing a crime and you’re the victim,” Volkmer said, “are you going to believe that the county attorney who campaigned with the sheriff is going to give you a fair shake?”
The conviction rate from the Pinal County Attorney’s Office under Voyles is “abysmal,” Volkmer said. He argued that the office is only convicting 30 percent of cases that go to trial “for the most serious offenses.”
Volkmer said he supports pursing the death penalty in certain cases, but argued the rate at which Voyles is pursuing capital punishment is “too high,” which again costs county taxpayers.
“As a county attorney, you have to uphold the law, but you also have to be a steward of the county’s resources,” Volkmer said.
Volkmer also took aim at the length of time it takes for the Attorney’s Office to prosecute cases and turnover under Voyles.
No Democrats are running for the attorney position. The primary elections will be Aug. 30.