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Board looking into Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office’s use of posses

Fifty six new members of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Illegal Immigration Posse are sworn in Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — An oversight board began reviewing this week the use of volunteer posses by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

“The sheriff is committed to the idea of a posse and he certainly knows that the posse does a lot of good things … Having said that, it appears that the management, the organization and the accountability all need to, at a minimum, be tightened up,” former Arizona Attorney General and review board chairman Grant Woods said Friday.

Woods said the review began after Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone asked the board to take a look into the posses when he took over for his predecessor, Joe Arpaio.

“I don’t think there was any one incident or anything like that, it’s just, as the sheriff took office and took a look at how this posse was structured, with 36 different posses around the county – and I think inadequate supervision and accountability — he’s asked us to take a look at the whole thing and give him recommendations on how to make it better.”

On Friday, former posse member David Isho was arrested for allegedly holding a person at gunpoint during a neighborhood dispute. In a release, the sheriff’s office said Isho identified himself as a member of the agency.

Isho’s credentials were seized, he was thrown out of the posse and faces charges, but Woods said the incident was an example of why the review was needed.

“At the end of our first meeting, we were all very concerned about many things related to the posse and this incident … is symptomatic of some of those concerns,” he said.

Woods said he wants to see strict regulations placed on posse members since they are asked to help enforce the law.

“We need to make sure that, if people are going to carry badges, carry guns, drive marked cars, that is only done in limited circumstances, if ever,” he said.

“There [should be] strict procedures relating to that, that everyone is properly trained and I’m not convinced that that’s the case, historically, here.”

Woods did not call for getting rid of posses altogether — the Arizona Constitution allows county sheriffs to form the groups — but said he has questions about them.

“I don’t think you hand out badges and guns and cars and uniforms to people unless it’s appropriate and right now there’s a big question about that,” he said.

There was no timeline to complete the review, but Woods said he would like to see it done in a quick manner.

“I would hope that we could do this sooner rather than later and make our recommendations to the sheriff so that he can begin to implement whatever reforms he thinks are necessary,” he said.

The review was being conducted by Penzone’s SPEAR board, the same 12-person group that recommended he close Tent City earlier this year.

KTAR’s Ali Vetnar contributed to this report.

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