Lawmakers are taking steps allowing the state to disband the police department in Colorado City. But, Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer reports the move is gathering some opposition.
The legislation would permit the state to dissolve any police department when at least half of its officers have lost their required state certification within any five year period. That would have the local sheriff's department take over the duties. The measure is aimed specifically at Colorado City where many of its police officers - they're called City Marshals there - are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, a polygamist offshoot of the mainstream Mormon church.
Attorney General Tom Horne said more than half the officers there have been decertified over the years, some for misconduct with minors and others after declaring that their loyalty to church leader Warren Jeffs, serving a life term in Texas for sex with minors, trumps state law. "Rather than enforce the law objectively, they take their orders from the church", Horne said. "They discriminate in enforcement based on whether or not you're part of the religion, whether or not you're a member in good standing in the religion."
But Horne said that's only part of it. "They do terrible things, like a woman tries to escape, drag her back or help expel young men. Over 1,000 young men have been expelled from the town so that the old men can dominate the young women in their harems and not have competition from the young men", Horne said.
The measure annoyed Representative Doris Goodale, the Kingman Republican who represents the area. She said those involved in pushing the legislation have never been to Colorado City or talked to anyone who lives up there. Goodale said, "there are concerns, there are problems. But to continually force legislation on communities to disband...our sheriff's office did the coverage up in Colorado City for years. Didn't want to do it anymore. So he abandoned Colorado City. That's why they went to the marshal's office."
And Goodale said she sees an ulterior motive behind the legislation. She said, "this is just a persecution effort because they're a polygamous community. People don't like polygamy, it's not illegal."
That last point is true. The Arizona Constitution does say that plural marriages or even polygamous cohabitation "are forever prohibited within this state." But there actually are no laws making plural marriages among adults a crime unless someone tries to register more than one spouse at a time with the state.
Representative Michell Ugenti, who is sponsoring the legislation, said this has nothing to do with polygamy. "I don't care, I really don't care how you live your personal life," Ugenti said. "I don't care what your religion is. I don't care what you believe in. I don't care what you do for an occupation. But what I do care is when you're charged and when you do take an oath to uphold the law and enforce it equally among your residents and you don't, perhaps. And how do we measure that? Well, in this instance we're measuring that with an overwhelming amount of decertifications within a certain time period."
Horne acknowledged that getting rid of an entire police department might seem unnecessary. But he said that simply decertifying problem police officers is not the answer. "It's a systemic problem," Horne said. "Every time we decertify somebody a clone takes his place. And so the problem persists. Getting rid of the individual people doesn't solve the problem."
This is not the first time Horne has pushed the issue. He actually got a version of the measure out of the Senate last year, only to have it killed in the House amid opposition from Goodale and Nancy McLain of Bullhead City, the area's other representative. McLain is now gone. Her replacement, Representative Sonny Borrelli, has not taken a public position on the measure.